As fairgoers make their way through the 4-H barns and continue west toward the grange display, odds are good the sound of a polka or Spanish guitar ballad will reach their ears.
For 50 years, the Mahoning Valley International Civic and Culture Society has staffed the International Building at the Canfield Fair, which this year has 22 booths representing 25 countries and cultures.
An outdoor stage on one end of the building serves as a venue for singers, dancer and musicians who perform in the styles and languages of their respective ethnic background, said Ray Nakley, president of the MVICCS.
“Fairs are primarily about agriculture, but over the years, fairs are now places of entertainment, community and cultural displays. One thing that’s great about living in the Mahoning Valley is the ethnic diversity,” Nakley said.
Judge Clifford Woodside, Atty. Joseph Sheban and James Palazzo were among the primary founders of the organization, which aimed to bring together the various ethnic groups and associations in the Valley, and they felt the Canfield Fair was an ideal place for a display because of the large volume of people who attend, he added.
Andy Frost Jr., the fair board member who oversees the building, says there are “people visiting the booths in there all the time.”
“There are real treasures in there,” he said. “And the entertainment and costumes, it’s amazing.”
Ron Garchar, co-chairman of the American-Slovak Cultural Association of the Mahoning Valley, donned a traditional, loose-fitting embroidered shirt has he spoke to fairgoers Thursday.
“We get a lot of people asking questions about their heritage, because many haven’t had the opportunity to learn about it or travel back to their ancestors’ homeland,” he said.
Many of the booths try to provide education, in addition to displaying artifacts.
The Slovak booth, for example, offers a vocabulary sheet of common words and phrases in Slovak.
“People recognize a phrase or a word or two, then they say, ‘Oh, my grandmother used to say that,’” Garchar said.
Nakley said people come through the building not only to learn about their own heritage, but to get an understanding of other cultures, too.
“Why not celebrate our differences? It’s what makes the world an interesting place. And even as you see the differences, there is so much commonality: love of family and friendship,” he said.