The American melting pot, says Nancy Bennett, spokesman for the Northern Virginia Folk Festival, is more like a bowl of roots-flavored Chunky Soup. "We have people from the second or third or even fourth generation coming who are still so excited about their heritage, wanting to share it with others," she says.

One thousand such excited folk will contribute to a celebration of Northern Virginia's ethnic diversity this weekend. At the festival, the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation will bring their Piritott-Borda Rizzsel (roast pork loin with rice) to sell and their tales to tell; Marilen Recinto and her family will demonstrate the construction of Philippine lanterns; the Washington Toho Koto Society will bring Japanese kotos (stringed instruments) to play; and the Shuhplatter Verein Alt Washingtonia will do shoe-slapping Bavarian dances. More than 50 countries will be represented in foods, music and crafts.

The public can participate in free workshops in paper-making and the art of creating violins on Saturday and Sunday. And all craft booths include demonstrations -- in case you need further instruction in lace- making, Irish knitting, silk painting, Ukrainian egg-decorating, the building of a canoe or the manufacture of door mats from old tires.

This last craft, described by demonstrator Sundaram Curtis as a "lost art," comes from his Pennsylvania Dutch roots. "He thinks the reason almost all the mat-makers went out of business in the late '50s is that the mats were so durable, no one ever needed a replacement," says Bennett.

Food is a key part of participation, say festival spokesmen. "The top price on any food item is $1.50," says Bennett, who sees the festival as a painless way to try "very different" cuisines.

We're talking big yummies here -- Norwegian crab cakes, Senegambian groundnut stew, a Cambodian dessert called sang kya made with coconut cream, soul food and goodies brought in by the Ladies' Guild of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church.

Tables and chairs for consuming these delicacies will be set up around a stage, where music and dancing will run non-stop, with audience participation encouraged. If it's been a while since you helped out an English Rapper Sword Team or Chinese Rainbow Dancers, this will be your chance to sharpen your skills -- or learn new ones. There'll be workshops in classical Indian dancing on Saturday and Sunday, and a polka class both days for anyone who can count to three.

Another chance to dance comes after the Friday night Fiddle, Banjo and Clogging Contest -- an event that goes until the clogs come home.

While parents dance, kids can be weaving and learning international sports and games in a special children's corner.

Such games -- and food, music and crafts -- are intended to further understanding between cultures. But a curious festival-goer can come away with even more: Ask the Hungarian Freedom Fighters how they escaped from their Soviet-dominated country; or get Yugoslavia-born Flory Jadoga to speak a little Ladino -- the language of the Sephardic Jews, which she describes as a "kind of Spanish Yiddish, with a Baltic lilt."

If that gives you a glimpse of how far Northern Virginia roots are flung, listening to John Jackson's blues should show you how deep they run. Jackson, a nationally known blues guitarist, has spent the last 30- odd years in Fairfax as a grave digger -- an occupation he still practices between concerts and recordings. Unable to read or write, he started his mnemonic blues library in 1931, he says, when a furniture dealer showed up with a wagon load of goods, including a Victrola, at his family's farm in Rappahannock. His father refused to buy the machine and walked back to the field, but the salesman put a record on for Jackson's mother -- and made the sale. FOLKLIFE AND LORE -- The activities begin Friday at 7 with the Fiddle, Banjo and Clogging Contest. Food, crafts and continuous music and dance on Saturday from 1:30 to 7 and on Sunday from noon to 7; entrance for either day is $1, 50 cents for over-60s and free to children five and under. The Friday- night contest and a Saturday-night concert, starting at 7, are free. The festival is held in the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 Second Street South, just off Route 50 and Glebe Road in Arlington. Call 558-2166.

Deborah Churchman is a Washington-area writer