Tube City Almanac

May 08, 2012

Village to 'Return to Roots' This Summer

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(The writer of this story has a conflict of interest. See the editor's note.)

Changes to this year's International Village are designed to return the annual ethnic festival to its roots, organizers say.

Games, slides and other carnival-type attractions will be downplayed, while a new series of educational demonstrations will be added to the three-day celebration, which draws 15,000 to 20,000 people each August to Renziehausen Park.

This year's International Village --- the 53rd --- is scheduled for Aug. 14, 15 and 16.

"I don't want to re-invent the wheel by any means," McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko says. "International Village is a fantastic event that people look forward to each and every year, and we want to make sure we keep all of the wonderful things about the Village the same."

That includes ethnic food booths representing nationalities of Europe, Africa and Asia as well as continuous free entertainment and dancing nightly.

But there was a sense that adding amusements and games were diluting the focus of International Village, Cherepko says.

"International Village was always designed to be an ethnic festival, and the one thing we wanted to make sure that we do is to continue that tradition and even enhance it," he says. "The last thing we want is for it to become a carnival. That's not what it's intended to be."

. . .

This summer, each ethnic group participating in the festival will be asked to provide a 15 to 20 minute presentation about their culture, heritage or traditions. These presentations can be as simple as talking for a few minutes about the history of a nation or as elaborate as demonstrating how to make a craft or recipe, says City Councilman Dan Carr, who has been named this year's chairman of the International Village committee.

"If you're representing a culture, you should be able to talk about your heritage for 15 or 20 minutes," Carr says. Booths that are unable to provide a demonstration can opt-out by paying a fee, he says, but adds, "We don't want the money. We want the education."

The educational demonstrations will force the craft booths to move out of the Jakomas Blue-Top Pavilion and into a separate craft village nearby, Carr says. The workshops will run from 4 to 6 p.m. during each day of the festival; when they're through, the pavilion will be used as a dance hall and provide some covered seating for people to eat.

Bernice Yanzetich, a retired educator whose father, Evan, was among the original organizers of International Village, has been named Heritage Education Coordinator.

. . .

International Village began in July 1960 as part of a 10-day celebration of McKeesport history called "Old Home Week." Held then on Market Street, Downtown, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, the event was described as "gaily decorated booths from which the respective national groups will dispense native foods and display original handicraft work."

Flags of the different nations were hung above the street. Musical and dance performances, provided by each of the booths, were a part of International Village from the beginning.

Charter participants in the first International Village --- held July 6, 7 and 8, 1960 --- were the Greek, Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Romanian, Irish and Jewish booths.

International Village outlived "Old Home Week" and quickly grew in attendance and size until being moved to Renzie Park. The event's success gained it national notoriety and led to similar ethnic food and music festivals around the country.

. . .

Although International Village is perhaps best known for its variety of ethnic foods --- prepared and sold by McKeesport-area churches --- the event is "not just about food," Cherepko says. "Sometimes we forget that. I don't want to say that we've gotten away from it, but International Village is also about celebrating our heritage."

The International Village committee has adopted as its mission to provide "a family-oriented cultural event dedicated to (promoting, honoring and remembering) our ethnic heritage by the preservation of traditional food and entertainment."

"When Dan and I sat down, we came up with a new vision statement," Cherepko says. "We didn't want to change it totally and turn people off, but in our mind, some of these changes are going to enhance the Village.

"I think people will continue to enjoy it like they have in the past," he says. "We may get a few people as well who don't like the changes, but in the long run, people will understand why we've made them."

. . .

Cherepko rejected a suggestion that local businesses could also be invited to exhibit during International Village: "That gets away from the roots of what it's all about, and it's in the other direction from where we want to go."

In response to questions about International Village cash handling procedures, Carr has appointed a collections manager, Gladys Hunt-Mason, to review and monitor receipts each night.

Ron Melocchi has been appointed to the committee to represent the city's recreation board, and newly elected city Councilman Keith Soles has been named as council's representative to the board. Musician and bandleader "Mikey Dee" Dorich continues as entertainment coordinator.

. . .

Editor's Note: At last week's meeting of the International Village Committee, Jason Togyer, executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc., was named by Chairman Dan Carr publicity coordinator for this year's International Village. In addition to its live broadcast of International Village, Tube City Community Media Inc. will host an International Village website and perform media outreach to promote the event outside of McKeesport to a regional audience.

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Feedback on “Village to 'Return to Roots' This Summer”

Good for you Jason,

Seems the new administration has to make it’s mark on an old tradition.

Just part of the game I suppose.

Say hello to Pork for me!

BarryG - May 08, 2012

I think this is a terrific action by the City. On a planet that is getting increasingly small due to the advances in digital and other technologies it is another way to position the City as a global location. I believe this idea is nicely symbolized in the logo viewed here, which I trust is the official logo for the Festival. If not, I would certainly support it being so. What a wonderful opportunity for the city’s unique diversity to be central to the progress which can benefit all of it citizens and beyond. Kudos! to the Mayor and his team, for this new direction. Of course, in the final analysis from an educator’s perspective, the International Festival represents yet another opportunity to introduce and prepare our youth for success in a globally diverse economic, political and cultural reality. Nice move, McKeesport!
Curtiss E. Porter, PhD. - May 09, 2012

Good luck Jason with the Village …. It is good to see positive things arising from the 2 Rivers area. God Bless Tom Popovic … Belle Vernon PA
Tom Popovic - May 09, 2012

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