MODESTO -- Almost 30 countries were represented Saturday at the 21st annual International Heritage Festival in downtown Modesto.
The one-day festival offered a chance to journey around the world through music, dance, food and crafts. It began with a parade of flags from each country and then visitors browsed among booths outside the Gallo Center for the Arts to learn about the different nations.
One of the eye-catching booths this year was run by the Knights Quest Academy of Chivalry, which displayed the kind of helmets, armor and weapons that were used in medieval Ireland and Scotland.
The Turlock school teaches fighting techniques with 18 types of medieval weapons. Students also can learn archery and wrestling.
Gemini Asonte, the school's founder, said visitors to the booth had fun asking questions about the display. An information sheet included facts such as: Young knights practiced on piggyback to learn the balance and skills needed for mounted combat. Twelve of the 17 entries in the Knights Code of Chivalry are about acts of chivalry as opposed to combat.
"A lot of people are interested in the medieval period," Asonte said. "We try to dispel the myths."
On the main stage, groups performed cultural dances and music, including bagpipes and Welsh songs. Other entertainers represented Portugal, the Philippines, the Middle East, Mexico, Cambodia, Laos and Samoa.
The festival highlights included a Chinese fashion show and a showcase of American music.
Members of the Khmer Youth of Modesto were dressed in green outfits and peacock feathers to perform a traditional Cambodian dance. As the young people explained, the peacock dance is about two people who get lost in the forest. They dance to find their way.
"We do it for the fun and to learn about our culture," said Emily Sem of Modesto. She performed with other girls ages 10 to 13, including Sabrina Lamanze, Angelica Khi and Jasmine Khemsouvanh.
The people who ran the country booths fielded questions on everything from history to current affairs. Members of the St. Mark Coptic Church of Ripon displayed papyrus and other historical items of ancient Egypt, but a few visitors were curious about recent political changes in the country, they said.
The free festival presented by the nonprofit International Festival Committee is a popular diversion for families. Children could visit the country displays, where they collected stamps and stickers and heard about the geography of each nation.
Eric Quintana and his daughter, Marissa, traveled from San Joaquin County for their first visit to the festival. Marissa was kept busy with coloring and craft activities in the Kids World area.
"My daughter likes it," Quintana said. "It's kind of nice for people to get together and unite on a peaceful day."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.