WorldFest, Louisville’s premier festival celebrating the city’s rich diversity is entering its 16th year. Each Labor Day weekend, Louisville hosts four days of events that include a parade, naturalization ceremony, live entertainment and international vendors and cuisine.

During WorldFest weekend, Louisville residents who are immigrants or who come from immigrant backgrounds gather on the city’s Belvedere to showcase and share their cultures. At events like WorldFest, Louisvillians and neighbors from the surrounding counties can travel the world; greet their diverse neighbors without leaving the city limits.

Immigrant population

In the state of Kentucky, the immigrant population is somewhat smaller than it is in some states like New York, Texas, and California, but it’s growing.

According to the American Immigration Council, “Nearly four percent of the state’s population was born in another country. Foreign-born residents make up a vital, educated share of the labor force. Over a third of immigrants in Kentucky possess a college or higher degree…”

In Louisville, over 35 percent of population growth is coming from the immigrant community. Louisville is becoming a center for international business and job opportunities.

“Our international residents come from more than 150 different countries and now more than 137 languages are being spoken in the Jefferson County Public Schools. WorldFest is all about celebrating community members and their diverse backgrounds through art, music, food, education and much more!” said Marketing and Events Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office for Special Events Claire McCormick.

New American Economy Research Fund, a council of mayors and business people across the political spectrum who support immigration mentioned Global Louisville in a recent article on their site. They state, “Though they are 4.9 percent of the metro area’s population, immigrants are 8.3 percent of the metro area’s STEM workers and 7.1 percent of business owners.”

The cultures that choose Louisville to make their home add much to the economic, technical and overall cultural health of the city.

“Today, immigration is critical to sustaining the city’s growth and economic prosperity,” said Mayor Fischer in a recent op-ed in the Courier Journal.  “From 2009 to 2014, the city’s foreign-born population grew 42 percent, and these more than 60,000 new Louisvillians have brought $1.3 billion in spending power, opening new businesses across the city, better connecting us to global trading partners and contributing to our rich culture and quality of life.”

Showcasing diversity

The diversity of the city has allowed many families to share long-standing traditions that include their countries of birth and to form new ones in their nation of choice. Parade of Cultures participant Gemma Fetalver marches each year with family and friends from the Philippines. The event is an important yearly tradition.

“I participate in WorldFest because I really enjoy wearing traditional Filipino dresses that one would normally wear to a formal event,” she tells Insider.  “This is an opportunity for Louisville to see what Filipinos wear and how these pieces were influenced by the history of countries that landed in the Philippines before they gained their independence.”

“I also enjoy seeing all the other cultures that encompass our city…and the food!” More than 60 different food vendors representing various countries. anything from Asian delicacies to Ethiopian cuisine. You can try food and drinks from a different country for every meal over Labor Day weekend.

While the event is hosted by the city of Louisville, it is important to note that all of the funding comes from sponsorships. Some of those sponsors include: Passport, the Kentucky Lottery, Stella Artois, ValuMarket and more, including the Confucius institutes from Western Kentucky University and University of Kentucky.

WKU, offers an immersive Chinese experience at the festival. The Confucius Institute offers WorldFest attendees a chance to experience over 20 booths at the festival. The booths introduce attendees to Chinese culture through calligraphy, Chinese painting, tea ceremony, traditional costumes.

“The Confucius Institute at WKU is happy to bring a sense of the Chinese culture and language to WorldFest, and believe it is a great platform for bringing communities of people together,” says Terrill Martin, Interim Director of the Confucius Institute at WKU.  “We live in a world that has no borders or walls anymore, and it is of the utmost important for us to understand, share, and celebrate other cultures.”

Event planners are excited for this year’s event and hope that unlike last year, the weather cooperates. In 2017, the remains of Hurricane Harvey effectively delayed and shortened the festival. This year the festival will get an extra hour on Monday evening and Saturday night will host Latin Night on the Overlook Stage.

WorldFest features three stages of live entertainment over four days, including the Etnopolis- featuring Luca Ciari from Rome, Italy in  collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago. There will be belly dancing, Irish dancing, salsa dancing and so much more. For complete information about the entertainment, click here.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer will be the parade’s Grand Marshall and will spend time at the festival meeting and greeting residents of the city.

The event will be held August 31st-September 3rd at the Belvedere. Hours are listed on the festival website.