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A Trip Around the World with Milwaukee's 74th Annual Holiday Folk Fair

Bath Fitter
The International Bazaar at Holiday Folk Fair

On Friday, around 200 immigrants will be sworn in as naturalized citizens in Milwaukee. Their new status as Americans comes as the country continues to debate the topic of immigration and who has the right to enter and stay in this country legally.

The ceremony also comes in the midst of an annual event that a Wisconsin organization has organized for almost three-quarters of a century: the weekend-long Holiday Folk Fair at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.

Al Durtka is president and CEO of the International Institute of Wisconsin, which works in the area of refugee resettlement and also produces the fair. He says that the idea for the fair evolved 74 years ago. "I think [there] has always been this educational kind of bent, in trying to get individuals to learn more about other cultures and other people, as well as to help those individuals coming learn about us." 

Durtka says that this year's fair includes lots of good food and the showcasing of many cultures, from Arab to Ugandan and Vietnamese. He says it's an eye-opener for people who may not know there are so many cultures and ethnicities in Milwaukee. "I always look at the Holiday Folk Fair as an opportunity to know your neighbor."

Learning about other people's beliefs and values helps people explore their own values, Durtka says. "As we look at what's the ultimate goal [of the Fair], it is really peace and understanding. If I can have any small part in us moving in that direction, that's what I want to be part of... we can partake in everyone's culture and everybody's celebration and join together to be a cohesive group."