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Smithsonian Folklife Festival Celebrates Cultural Traditions

A Mariachi band at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

More than a million people are gathering in Washington ahead of Sunday's Independence Day festivities as well as for the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. For more than four decades, the Folklife Festival has showcased cultures from across the United States and the world.

The festival is the premiere cultural event for tourists and takes place not far from the Capitol on the National Mall.

The cultures of Mexico and Asian-Pacific Americans are being featured this year.

Steve Kidd, the festival's director, says people come here to learn about and experience the cultures from the United States and around the world.

"The festival was really founded upon the idea that tradition bearers know their culture better than any of us here at the Smithsonian do," said Steve Kidd. "So we bring them here to the National Mall so they can demonstrate their traditions and be honored in front of the public that come to the festival."

Sylvia Ching from Hawaii teaches kids how to make flowered hand bracelets. She says she's proud of her culture and wants to share it.

"The importance is letting people know how wonderful Hawaii is and we want them to know they can go there if they want to," she said. "Many people love it there." Kidd says the festival attracts thousands of international tourists.

"They really come here to experience the depth and breath of world culture and American culture in a way that you cannot really do anywhere else," Kidd said.

In a tea room, visitors learn how to make and cook Japanese Soba noodles

They also observe a traditional Mexican limpia, or cleansing ceremony, where the Wixárica people search the body for pain and negative energy, and say prayers to expel them.

Nearby, others look to the sky as men swing in the air from ropes, a tradition celebrating a Mexican corn harvest. Richard Kurin, is the undersecretary for history and culture at the Smithsonian Institution.

"I look at it as a wonderful cultural conversation," said Kurin. "It is a way where Americans and people from other countries can share their cultures with each other and learn."

Organizers of the festival say the event also showcases the Smithsonian's nearby museums where people can learn more about art, space and American history.