The Zorya Ukrainian Dance Ensemble performs at Texas Folklife Festival. Credit: Courtesy / Texas Folklife Festival

The Texas Folklife Festival provides Texans with an opportunity to remember the people and the traditions that shaped their state. Participants come from 70 Texas cities and towns to see people not related by blood, but tied together through 47 years of friendship that define the character of the Lone Star State.

This year’s “family reunion” will take place June 8-10 at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.

Festival organizers constantly search the family tree for new growth. Strong communities like the Lebanese, Belgians, and Greeks have been a part of Folklife since its beginning in 1972 and through the years, the Chinese, Filipinos, Turks, and dozens more have become part of Folklife. Joining the family this year are the Romanian community, the Congolese, and the Syrian community of St. Ephraim.

As part of San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebration, the Romanians gave a preview of who they are and what they do at UTSA’s A Taste of Folklife event in early May. They wowed party-goers with Transylvanian Chimney Cakes, a sweet confection of yeast dough, rolled around a pin for baking over an open fire. When the finished cake comes off the pin, steam comes up through the top like the smoke coming from a chimney, giving the treat its name.

The Congolese will join the festival this year with Astuce Kitchen, providing authentic sampling of Congolese foods, as well as the Congolese gospel choir, which sings at annual religious services set around festival time. Folklife Festival organizers met the Congolese community through the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

It’s taken great effort to keep the family together over the years. Many of the cultural groups that helped establish the festival are dwindling in numbers as their membership ages. However, new generations have stepped up to keep their cultural heritage alive. Today, three generations of a family might work at a food booth or dance on stage together. In some cases, new organizations from long-represented cultures might emerge.

Getting the family together isn’t cheap either. Organizers fight hard to keep costs down, and balance prices so at the end of the festival, cultural organizations can take home part of the proceeds from their booths to keep their group together for another year. Some festival participants come from out of town and after meals and lodging might not be able to recoup their costs.

Purchasing a ticket and buying food and drink from the vast array of participating groups can be your contribution to supporting our ethnic and cultural communities in a very special way.

These amazing people make the trip, work the grill, get on stage, and swing the hammer because they know what they do matters. They do it because they are living examples of culture that people can get to know through personal experiences.

They do it because they’re Texans. They understand what it means and how important it is. They want everyone else to know it too.

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Jo Ann Andera

Jo Ann Andera is the director of the Texas Folklife Festival.