Folk festival offers new Children’s Village

Posted Aug. 26, 2011, at 9:44 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Mock passports in hand, children will travel through four distinct cultures Saturday and Sunday in the Children’s Village, a new addition at this year’s American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront.

The tiny, makeshift village, located on the corner of Broad Street and Washington Street, consists of four tents that represent “neighborhoods” of Native American, Franco-American, Acadian, Latino and Chinese cultures. And connecting them all is the “Village Square,” a melting pot for stories and traditions.

“Where I grew up in Puerto Rico, every town had a plaza, a town square, where people would gather and share their stories and traditions,” said folk festival volunteer Maria Baeza, who came up with the idea for the village.

Baeza, who has volunteered all 10 years of the folk festival, woke up at 3 a.m. one morning envisioning an area that introduced several different cultures to the youngest festival-goers. From that point, she began reaching out to people within the community, asking them to represent and teach about their cultures.

“This is the first time that the community has been an integral part of the programming in the Children’s Village,” said Baeza. “To me, that reflects more the festival culture. We have about 900 volunteers from the community [for the festival this year].”

For the past nine years, the Maine Discovery Museum was responsible for organizing and determining the content for the children’s area of the festival. This year, the museum staff worked with Baeza, other folk festival volunteers and community members of different backgrounds to build the first Children’s Village, a space for children to play and learn.

“There was a sensitivity to kinds of diversity issues, but there was also this real comfort level with each other and openness about learning,” said Baeza. “We learned so much about each other.”

Rhea Cote Robbins, founder and executive director of the Franco-American Women’s Institute and instructor at the University of Maine, is the Franco-American area leader. Maria Sandweiss, Spanish lecturer at the University of Maine, will lead the Latino area. Brianne Lolar, cultural education leader of the Penobscot National Cultural & Historic Preservation Department, will lead the Native American area. And Bingyu Zhang of the Bangor Chinese School will lead the Chinese area.

After their passport has been stamped, children can continue into the tent and dive into the culture through crafts, stories and lessons on language and tradition. Each activity and performance is geared towards the diversity of family life within the cultures.

In the village square, face painters from the Maine Discovery Museum will incorporate symbols of these cultures into the designs. Museum staff will be in charge of the village square pavilion, where short performances will be featured Saturday.

Sunday’s festival activities and performances have been canceled because of the impending storm traveling up the East Coast.

“We’ve offered our services because we have the expertise,” said Trudi Plummer, Maine Discovery Museum director of educational programs. “We know how to put on a huge craft and activities production for hundreds of kids, so it was a natural fit.”

The museum also will be providing a baby and toddler area.

“It’s great how much the community supports the children’s area, and we had some wonderful stuff donated,” said Plummer, referring to the boxes of glue sticks, seashells, beads and colorful yarn that have been dropped off at the museum leading up to the folk festival weekend.

“I love the festival and I love the diversity it brings,” said Baeza, who hopes to continue the Children’s Village next year with other cultural groups such as the Somalian community.

For information, visit americanfolkfestival.com or call 992-2630.

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