Tuesday, April 21, 2015

High School Festival Celebrates Diversity

This blog post was originally published on the Danville Commercial-News website on April 18, 2015.
This event was co-sponsored by the European Union Center.

by Carol Roehm

High School juniors Tatum Bray, from left, and Rachel Parker learn about the formal Indian dress worn by junior Shreja Patel during Friday's International Festival at the high school.    

DANVILLE — Colorful costumes, henna tattoos and incense excited Danville High School students as they entered the gymnasium Friday afternoon for an international festival.
DHS’ GLOBAL House and the Humanities Division and the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois cosponsored the event titled International Festival: “A Celebration of Culture.”
The intent of the festival was to celebrate the vast cultural and ethnic diversity richly represented within the Danville community. The festival was nearly a year in the making.

DHS junior Samantha Buchanan, a GLOBAL House student, wore a German dirndl and her blonde hair in braids. She participated in the festival’s fashion show, as did junior Shreja Patel who wore a formal Indian dress.

“I think it’s cool,” Samantha said of festival. “We put a lot of work into it.”

DHS students visited booths and viewed stage activities in the afternoon before the doors opened to the general public later in the afternoon with more booths, a mini taste of cultural foods, immersion rooms, activities, parade of fashion and entertainment.

An evening performance included entertainment from many cultures as well as featured West African dancer Djibril Camara, formerly of the Ballet du Afrique Noir of Senegal. Camara also performed earlier in the day at East Park Elementary School.

Outside of the DHS gym, three classrooms were set up as immersion rooms where topics were explored in more detail. The topics, which included discussions on kimonos, Afghanistan and women’s rights and on the Arabic language, were presented in 30-minute blocks.

One of the immersion rooms was going to be about the Hindu language led by Mithi Mishra and Chaitra Prasad from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Illinois.

“India is fascinating when it comes to language,” Mishra said, adding that there are 22 different languages spoken in the country, and that English is taught only in expensive, special English-speaking schools.

There were at least 40 booths, many of them student- or classroom-created, at the event which was free to the public and took place in the gym, classrooms and the Dick Van Dyke Auditorium.
Dawn Nasser, coordinator of student recruitment at Danville Area Community College, displayed a table full of artifacts from Chile, Slovakia and Syria.

“I’ve been to nine different countries, so I brought different things with me today,” Nasser said.

Some of the items included a mask made from cactus, earrings and a change purse made from a coconut shell, a sword made from a swordfish’s beak and a figurine made from seaweed.
DHS sophomores Leondre Cobb and Isaac Vogt looked at each item on Nasser’s table.

“I like learning about all the different cultures that are here,” Isaac said. “I spent a lot of time with the international instruments because I’m a musician.”

Leondre said Nasser’s booth and the India booth were his favorites.

At another booth, Mira Bhavsat of Danville used henna to draw elaborate Indian designs on the back of students’ hands. Judging by the line of teenage girls, it was one of the most popular booths at the festival.

“I like it,” senior Samanta Calvillo said as she admired the back of her hand. “I thought (henna designs) was something they do all the time, but it’s for weddings and celebrations.”

Nearby, brothers Benjamin Xiong, a DHS senior, and David Xiong, a DHS junior, and their cousin, senior Andrew Xiong talked about their Hmong heritage and the traditional money vest displayed on their table.

Andrew explained that the colorful money vest decorated with dangling coins is worn by men “to show what you have” wealth wise.

Andrew said he thought the festival was “pretty good” because it gave him and his cousins, all first-generation Americans, an opportunity to share their culture with others.

“Before the festival people would ask me my race, and now I can share where my family is from,” he said.


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