In 2017 I reported on a visit to what was then the fourth iteration of the Little Africa Festival in St. Paul. Organized by the African Economic Development Solutions group, the festival is held in early-mid August every year—though the pandemic doubtless intervened in the last few years. The location is Hamline Park in St. Paul (where Lafond meets Snelling). It was held again this past Sunday and we returned for the first time since 2017 (we were unfortunately out of town in 2018 and 2019 and we all know what happened in 2020 and 2021). We found the festival slightly larger in scope and just as vital, in both senses of the word.
One sign of the larger scope than in 2017: Snelling was closed at University and both sides of the street lined with various stalls. Food stalls and trucks meanwhile set up on Lafond, which was also closed approaching Snelling. The festival proper was in the park. A stage—much larger than in 2017—was set up near the basketball court with lots of rows of seating. It ran from noon to 8 pm this year, a couple of hours longer than in 2017. Once again the crowd was mostly African though other members of the local community were represented as well. One of the MCs called on various nationalities in the crowd to make themselves known and there was a fairly wide representation of people from different African nations.
Also present were a number of political luminaries, including Rena Moran—currently a member of the MN House of Representatives for the DFL and in November the likely new Ramsey County Commissioner—and Governor Tim Walz. A lot of speeches were given and I found them quite inspiring. And I continue to be impressed with Governor Walz’s genuine embrace of immigrants and their cultures. He had been the speaker at my naturalization ceremony in 2019 and spoke again in the same vein as he had then about the importance of immigrant groups to the present and future of Minnesota (and the US). I was glad to be able to buttonhole him for a few minutes before he left to thank him for his work (and I also got a selfie with him).
After the speeches were done the cultural program began. We were there for the first few groups that performed: a Somali dance troupe (from the Somali Museum of Minnesota, I think); a large group of dancers from Afrocontigbo—a contemporary Igbo dance company who really got the crowd going (you can see a video of them in action here); and then another smaller performance by a group called Oromo Youth. I wish we could have stayed longer and I was particularly bummed to miss the parade scheduled for 3 pm (though I suspect it started a bit later). But we had to get home by 4 pm to get the older boy to some D&D bacchanal. If you were there for the late afternoon and evening part of the program, please do let me know what I missed. (Once again, I rued the fact that the organizers didn’t seem to have programs available.)
Oh yes, there was also food. We got there a little after the festival’s scheduled start time of noon. As in 2017 we parked at our friends’ home on Lafond and then we all walked down together. We’d hoped the food stalls would be set up not too long after noon but in practice it was almost 1 before they were all set to go. My guess is that more and more stalls and trucks may have set up as the day went on. But at the beginning there weren’t that many options and most seemed to be catering operations rather than restaurants.
We got food from three different stalls: Foodian’s Place; Gebeta; and Delly J’s Jamaican Catering. No prizes for guessing what kind of food Delly J’s was serving. They had a jerk chicken plate and a rib plate. We got the jerk chicken plate which for $20 served a very large amount of very tasty chicken over rice with cabbage and other veg on the side. Gebeta was serving Ethiopian food (though I suppose it may have been Eritrean). From them we got a plate of the beef tibs over injera. I was the second customer and my tibs was cooked to order and custom-seasoned to my preference. This too was very good and an excellent deal at $10. We also got a chicken skewer plate and a beef skewer plate from Foodian’s Place. Their website—from where you can buy various West African products—says that the proprietor is from Ivory Coast and Mali and the Ivorian Jollof served with both sets of skewers was quite tasty.
For a look at the event and the food, launch the slideshow below.
Alas, I know we will miss next year’s iteration of the festival (we are scheduled to be out of the country till the second half of August). I do hope I may have convinced some of you to go for the first time (I realize it’s a long way away). I do wish these cultural festivals got more publicity from the mainstream press. I received an email from one of the local glossies some days before the festival which listed cultural happenings in the Cities that week and there was no mention of this festival. If you know of any source that lists all events of this nature please do share. I’d got to the 2017 festival from the Global Twin Cities Facebook page but they don’t seem very active anymore and did not list this year’s festival either.
Okay, coming next from the Twin Cities will be a report on an Italian dinner in St. Paul that really disappointed us. That will be on Tuesday.