About the Festival

The Jackson International Food and Arts Festival was born from a series of community meetings organized by Mayor Jerry Gist in 2013.  Two community representatives in particular, Dr. Sandra Dee and Eduardo Morales, thought that it would be beneficial for Jackson’s foreign-born citizens to share their history, art, and culture with their fellow Jacksonians.  Dr. Dee and Mr. Morales agreed to co-chair the event and began recruiting like-minded community members to help organize, fund, and throw an international party in downtown Jackson!

The festival’s mission is to spread cultural awareness, promote cross-cultural engagement, and celebrate the diverse backgrounds of residents throughout West Tennessee.  Food and art are important themes present in all cultures, countries, and religions, and the festival serves as a place for all cultures to share their cuisine, art, and traditional performances in downtown Jackson.  The JIFAF aims to remind the community that despite differences in appearance, how we worship, or where we come from, there is far more that unites us than divides us.  

Under the leadership of Dr. Dee and Mr. Morales, and with the help of  many individuals, institutions, and businesses, the JIFAF has seen steady growth each year in cultural participation, community engagement, a beautiful and engaging parade, and a variety of awesome performances.

Please join us September 30, 2017, for the fourth annual Jackson International Food and Art Festival and help make this year the best yet!


History of the festival

The Jackson International Food and Arts Festival began in 2013 when Eduardo Morales, co-chair of JIFAF, asked the City of Jackson if it would consider hosting a festival to celebrate the diversity that exists in the city.  At the time, Mr. Morales was part of a group assembled by Jackson’s mayor, Jerry Gist, who had organized a group of community leaders from various neighborhoods to address some of the pressing issues facing Jackson at the time.  Dr. Sandra Dee was recruited to co-chair the festival, and the JIFAF was born!

Mr. Morales and Dr. Dee envisioned a festival where people in Jackson who were born outside of the United States could come together and share their cultures with others.  Both co-chairs loved
Jackson and understood that too often, some of the city’s international residents felt overlooked.  They felt that if Jacksonians were exposed to different cultures, they would welcome their diverse neighbors and enjoy learning more about them.  Dr. Dee and Mr. Morales formed a committee that shared this vision.  Members represented various cultures, the arts, schools, city employees, and others who worked make this dream a reality.  

The first JIFAF debuted in 2014.  Despite having a hiccup or two, all involved—including the committee, the public, and Mayor Gist—felt that the festival was a great success.  In fact, the festival was so well-attended that many of the food vendors were out of food before 1:00 p.m. even though the event was slated to last until 4:00 p.m.  Representatives from The Philippines, Mexico, India, Japan, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, England, Italy, China, Korea, and Argentina, in addition to others, participated in the first festival.  Many reported that the parade, which showcased the individual cultures, brought tears to people’s eyes.  The performers and artwork were wonderful.  Even though there were high winds and cold temps that day, everyone who attended had a great experience.  Because the first festival was so successful, Mr. Morales, Dr. Dee, and the committee decided to continue the festival annually.

The 2015 festival took place on a cold, cold day!  Nevertheless, the food was hot and better than ever.  Several professional kitchens signed up to participate that year and the food lasted until the end of the festival.  Additionally, the Jackson Fire Department got involved, sponsoring a kid’s corner and bringing along jumpers to entertain the kids even more.  The 2015 festival saw growth in the number of cultures who participated in the parade and set-up food booths.

Finally, in 2016, the weather on festival-day was perfect!  Last year was by far the biggest and best JIFAF yet.  Not only was attendance greatly increased, but more food was available, the kid zone was back, and the committee brought in professional entertainment for the first time.  Ancient Mexican and Chinese dragon dances were performed, and historical hymns from the Gullah Geechee culture were sung.  

Building on this previous success, this year’s JIFAF—scheduled for September 30, 2017—aims to be the best yet.  The committee has added several new elements, including an art contest (see “Art Contest” for more information), a bazaar shopping area, new performers, and even more cultures to participate in the parade and share their native cuisines via food booths.  Please come join us!


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About the Team



A message from Mayor Gist:

Jackson is known for its rich cultural diversity and accepting environment for multiculturalism that enriches the members of our community. The Jackson International Food and Art Festival is a celebration of what this community is and can be!

The festival grew from the Citizens Commission on Unity, which was formed to help the community in understanding and embracing the diversity of Jackson.    There is strength in our differences and by educating our community and embracing the cultures and traditions of others, we learn from one another.

The continued success of this festival has been accomplished by a committed group of people who care very deeply about our city and its cultural diversity.


Team Members:

Eduardo Morales

My name is Eduardo Morales, I was born in Mexico on August 21st, 1962. At the age of 5, my parents sent me to live to my grandfather's house in a very small rural community, but that was the only place nearby that had a school. At the age of 8, I went back home to my parents because they finally made a school, where I had to start first grade. Everyone started at first grade no matter the age. From 4th to 6th grade I had to go to another school that I had to walk 6 miles to and from. At the age of 15, I moved to the closest town that had a high school, where I lived with my uncles Catalina and Cruz Morales. During my high school years, I had to work to buy my own books and school supplies, I worked as a baker, a butcher, a waiter, a cook and I also worked selling ice cream. I did not have time to go out on Sundays with my friends. When I finished high school I migrated to the United States. When I got established, I started working and going to school and was able to get my GED, and later on started attending college. I got married and had four kids 2 boys and 2 girls, a few years later I got divorced and kept custody of my four kids. It was not easy to work, study, and raise 4 kids but I did it! In 2003, I decided to retire and continue my college education. In 2005, we moved to Jackson, TN, but it was very different here and it took us a while to adapt. One day, I got a call from Ms. Tammy Buchanan, from the city of Jackson, inviting me to participate in a group, Season of Unity, that our Mayor Mr. Gerry Gist created.  This invitation came right when I needed contact with someone from the city, as I was working with my Hispanic Community. When I became part of the Season of Unity I got an idea that I shared with Tammy, which was the International Food and Art Festival. She gave me her full support and now I am very happy because I have made a lot of friends from different cultures and we have all been working together succesfully to bring everyone closer together and now the International Food and Art Festival is going to its 4th year!


Dr. Sandra V. Dee

 Dr. Sandra V. Dee is an Interventional Cardiologist at the Jackson Clinic and has lived in Jackson for the last 11 years.  She was the Lead Chair of the successful inaugural Jackson International Food and Art Festival in October 2014.  She has been involved with the festival since its inception and is the Co-Chair for this year’s event , together with Eduardo Morales.

 She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.  Dr. Dee is a medical graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines in 1987 and awarded in 2012 as the Most Outstanding Graduate of her Class. She is a Board Member of the University of Santo Tomas Medical Alumni Association in America. She is actively involved with the American Heart Association Go Red for Women, Circle of Red and breast cancer awareness programs.

Even with her busy practice, Dr. Dee finds time to engage in civic oriented activities. She was the President of the West TN Filipino American Association in Jackson, TN from 2013-2014.  During her term as President, her association held several events to foster camaraderie among the Filipino-American  community, promote cultural awareness by educating the youth and our community about  Philippine cultural heritage as well as raise funds for scholarships and assist members in times of need, including the devastating super typhoon Haiyan.

 She is not only passionate about her work as an Interventional Cardiologist and community activities.  But, closest to her heart has always been music and playing the piano!  One of her most cherished possessions is her 7 ft “B” Steinway baby!  Dr. Dee has played for benefit concerts including  Steinway’s Doctors in Concert  in Memphis for the benefit of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Dr. Dee is also a licensed Zumba instructor and has done zumbathon fundraisers for different causes in Jackson and Memphis. She was also the recipient of the STERLING AWARD for the 20 Most Influential Women in West TN in 2015 and awarded as one of West TN’s Finest Leaders in 2017.


Zain Hakim

I moved to Jackson in 1997. I graduated from JCM in 1999 and Lambuth in 2005. My father’s family traces their roots to India, Burma, Pakistan, and Thailand and mother’s family traces their roots to France, Scotland, and England.  I love to travel to different countries, experience new things, and eat new foods. I have been involved with the festival since its first year. It is by far my favorite event of the year. If you need any information about the festival, would like to volunteer, or become a friend or sponsor of the Jackson International Food and Art Festival please shoot me an email at jacksonifaf@gmail.com, or give me a call at 731-217-6654.  I hope to see everyone in downtown Jackson, September 30th between 10-4. It’s going to be awesome!!

Vinay Sood

Vinay Sood, has lived in Jackson since 1996.  He is employed as a pharmaceutical sales representative for a large national pharma company.  He has been involved with the JIFAF for 4 years and serves as Co-Chair, Sponsorship and Fundraising.  In addition, to his role with JIFAF, Vinay, is an active member of the Jackson Indian Association and has been a past board member for the Jackson YMCA.  If you would like to assist or be involved with the sponsorship and fundraising committee, please contact Mr. Zain Hakim- 731/217-6654.

Dr. Jean Marie Walls

   Professor of Language and Department Chair at Union University  

Dr. Mechel Camp  

 Dean of Communications & Humanities/Prof. of English Jackson State Community College

Melinda Richardson

   Lane College International Student Coordinator

Dr. Robin Rash      

 Foreign Language Professor University of Memphis Lambuth

Bill Wyche

 Wood Turner’s association

Rico Bryson

     Public Education Coordinator Jackson Fire Department

Erick Merriweather  

   Public Education Coordinator Jackson Fire Department

Captain Ron Adams  

 Jackson Police Department    

Patrick Williams    

City of Jackson

Sharon Smith

City of Jackson

Sandy MacDiarmid

City of Jackson

Matt Altobell

 Executive Director of the Jackson Downtown Development Corp

Melinda Hearn      

Executive Director of The Art’s Council

Teresa Crouse

Teacher at JMCSS and Vendor Coordinator for JIFAF

Helen Bada

Nigerian Representative

Prasann Jinturkar

 Jackson Association of Indians

Lauren Wood


Steven Cutcliff

 Student Volunteer

Jane Doroszczuk

   I came to the United States in October 2015. Last year was a special time because it was my anniversary living in this beautiful place, but also because the country of Argentina participated for the first time at the Jackson International Food and Art Festival. This year, I have the wonderful opportunity to take part as one of the designers and to help with the downtown decorations. I met amazing people who understand the meeting of unity and I loved working with them. I will return to Argentina the last week of October, but I will be a part for the last time of this wonderful event. 

Hiromi Thomas

Japanese Representative

Sabina Williamson

German Representative

Katie Howerton

Originally from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Katie Howerton is a 2015 Union University graduate and operates at Communications Manager for theCO as well as Editor-in-Chief of Our Jackson Home. She is eager to be a part of this year's festival as a means of celebrating our city's diverse neighborhood and bringing unity to our community.

Courtney Searcy

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