This must be the place: And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Lately, or more so in recent years, I find the only way I can drown out the constant barrage of noise and division in our country is when I put on my headphones, throw on some music, and let my fingertips flutter away on the laptop keyboard.
It’s almost like a chicken and the egg kind of thing, huh? What came first: the noise or my awareness of differences in our society? With the recent tweets by our commander in chief sparking a national outcry, with fingers seemingly pointed in every direction, where to from here? I find myself asking that question often — either in passing or in my thoughts.
And just like that, through all the noise and distraction, the Folkmoot International Dance & Music Festival returns, right here in my backyard that is Waynesville.
Initially, the annual gathering was meant to be a geo-political bridge during the Cold War in the 1980s. But, in our current state of affairs, though the reasons of importance of Folkmoot have shifted, the message remains the same — at the end of the day, we’re all humans in search of love and peace, and borders are simply invisible barriers.
Every single day we arise into a state of time and place where the national conversation and dialogue swirls like a tornado. Buzzwords, terms and slogans like “illegal immigration,” “build the wall” and “Make America Great Again” are shot out of the funnel cloud, ultimately piercing our hearts and souls, only to plunge further and farther into the darkness of uncertain times in our modern world.
Regardless if you’re a participant or not, Folkmoot has always been an anecdote to all the negative political rhetoric, absurd policies and nonstop screaming matches on both sides of the aisles in Washington D.C. as to what to do with the endless stream of folks fleeing whatever monster remains back in their homelands — across a continent, across an ocean.
As a kid, whether I realized it or not, the idea of — and actual presence of — American borders was an ever-present reality in my early years and impending adulthood. Born and raised directly on the Canadian Border in the tiny village of Rouses Point, New York, the border crossing into Canada was less than a couple miles from my childhood home.
Before the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, crossing that border was never given a second thought when I was a kid in the 1990s. My parents would take my little sister and I into Canada for the weekend to go skiing or an afternoon jaunt into the rich culture and grandeur of nearby Montreal, Quebec. If we wanted fresh, local produce, my mother would make a quick trip over the invisible line and get our groceries at the IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) in Hemmingford, Quebec.
But, when it came to the Canadian Border in my personal experience, what really stood out was watching my father work the line at the crossing in Champlain, New York.
An immigration officer and inspector for the United States government, my dad worked all along the border at several ports — big and small — and would determine would could be allowed into America. An officer for almost 30 years, he truly loved his line of work, and was damn good at it, too.
Nowadays, while crossing either border in this country, it’s a “guilty until proven innocent” approach by current officers. Back when my father held court on the car line, it was “innocent until proven guilty.” The old school nature of that approach was one where you as the foreigner would be given the benefit of the doubt until a red flag would be triggered within the questioning by the officer at hand.
And there were countless occasions where my mom, little sister and I would drive up to the crossing to bring my dad a late lunch or early dinner, and we’d see first-hand the work he did.
I’d observe illegal aliens and refugees fleeing whatever war-torn country or dictatorship they were trying to escape. The faces were filled with fear, with terror, with a sense of desperation when trying to seek asylum in the United States.
It was in those moments where it clicked in my young mind as to importance of the borders, of proper protocol implemented to help those seeking asylum, and, most of all, where the first line of compassion towards fellow human beings was tested day in and day out.
Yes, our world is much different post-9/11. But, at the same time, the themes of why people immigrate to America remain the same — a new chapter for a better life.
Sure, I see both sides of the immigration argument that currently stands before us. The borders do need to be fixed, whether physically or by changes in policy. And yet, it’s the compassion for other walks of life wanting to truly be free in their pursuit of happiness that seems to get lost in all the noise.
If you find yourself in and around Western North Carolina between July 18-28, take some time to immerse yourself in what Folkmoot truly means. Takes some time to engage and interact with one or all of the international groups living and performing in our mountains.
Don’t forget: our Folkmoot visitors are just as eager to make sense of it all as we are. For it is within conversation with others outside of your realm of understanding and experience that sets the tone for real, tangible change and positive growth on our planet.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 "Comedy at The Gem" will be held from 9 to 11 p.m. Thursday, July 18, in The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville.
2 Frog Level Brewing (Waynesville) will host Isaiah Breedlove (Americana/folk) at 7 p.m. Friday, July 19.
3 The Appalachian Heritage Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 20, in downtown Franklin.
4 There will be a barbecue and craft beer tasting with Innovation Brewing from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 19, on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, departing from Bryson City.
5 Pickin’ on the Square (Franklin) will host Tugalo Holler (bluegrass) at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 20.