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Cultural diversity on display at International Day



by Yesha Thakkar

Students from immigrant backgrounds spoke about retaining their cultural identity in the U.S. in the Little Theater c-block on International Day.

The panel consisted of seniors Iman Sayeed, Joelle Sugianto, Dom Emmanuel, Maria Herwagen, Jesús Rodríguez, Miki Shibuya, Alex Rivero, Manuel Salguero, Cheryl Nong, Audrey Brightbill, Sophia Hajjar, and juniors Dani Divo and Brianna Spiegel.

The panelists spoke about the stereotypes they have encountered at North due to their cultural background. Shibuya, who identifies as Japanese-American, said that individuals who move to the U.S. feel the need to assimilate, “so they hide important parts of their culture that really matter to them.”

Divo, who identifies as Venezuelan and Lebanese-American, said that living in the U.S. with a different cultural background is like “walking on a tightrope.”

“On one side, you have the ‘American’ culture that you try to absorb as best as you can. On the other side, you have your culture – the one that you show at home, the one that you’re so proud of having internally,” she said.

Brightbill, who identifies as Syrian-American, added that the need to fit in often stems from ignorance and disrespect for different cultures. “It feels horrible when someone criticizes your food and your culture because it forces you to fit in,” she said.

Divo said that even though she enjoys speaking Spanish, she does not speak it outside her house very often. “We’ve been told to speak English, we’ve been given dirty looks,” she said. “We’ve started talking in French because it’s more respected or something.”

Despite these challenges, the panelists said that they find ways to stay in touch with their culture. Hajjar said that she appreciates her culture’s cuisine because the members of her family “make food together.” She added, “It’s a really time-consuming process to make many dishes, so making and eating our food is really special to me,” she said.

According to the panelists, cultural background can help introduce people to a new community and build stronger relationships with people.

According to Nong, a Chinese-American student, this communal aspect has allowed her to connect with individuals in her community. She said that rather than calling her parents’ friends by their names, she calls everyone ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle.’ “It’s a little thing, but it’s still really important and I really love that about being Chinese.”

According to Sugianto, who identifies as Indonesian-American, North is good at welcoming individuals of all backgrounds, but it still has a long way to go in terms of learning to recognize and respect individuals with different cultural experiences. “Even though we’re not aware of these biases, they’re there. It’s important to acknowledge them so we can move forward and learn to appreciate each other.”


by Helen Xiao

Students watched the 2015 film “On the Way to School” to learn about international students’ experiences while travelling to school f-block of International Day.

The film outlines the stories of four children from around the world and their journeys to school. Each child in the film takes over an hour to travel to school, and their trips are filled with obstacles such as animal attacks, long rocky paths, and even having to push a wheelchair through streams and rivers.

“It was important to show this film not only because it encompasses a lot of different cultures around the world, but also because it is relevant to us as students,” said senior Maria Herwagen, one of the four student organizers of International Day.

According to senior Joelle Sugianto, another organizer, a goal of International Day was to expose students to the daily lives of people from around the world. “We wanted to show different outside world experiences, and this film really encapsulates that,” Sugianto said. “The film also shows different cultures, and we really wanted to communicate that.”

In addition to the array of cultures displayed, the film personally connects with every individual student, as it tells the story of traveling to school, according to Herwagen.

“Every one of us gets to school every morning, and many of us don’t have to worry about how and when we are going to get there because we have buses, cars and other sorts of ways of transportation” Herwagen said. “However not all kids are fortunate like that around the world, and it’s important to understand that.”


by Amy Xue

Students showcased posters, food, and decor representing their countries of origin on Main Street g-block of International Day. During lunch block, students could taste the unique flavors from each of the students’ cultural backgrounds while also learning more about the traditions and facts of the country.

Stands represented different countries including Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Venezuela. Many students crowded around the tables and the sense of community was strong as they asked questions about the countries and tried new foods.

“It shows the amount of diversity there is in this school,” junior Emiliya Aleksanyan said, who identifies as Russian and helped with Russia’s booth. “A lot of us have a background that helps make us who we are.”

The Irish table featured food samples and a green-themed poster. “To be honest, learning about my ancestors that came over during the potato famine and the resilience they showcased influenced how I view the world. I’m proud to be part of a country that survived a lot,” said senior Maeve Slack-Watkins, who helped manage the Ireland table.

Junior Brianna Spiegel, who also helped set up the Russia table, said, “A lot of people in our school try to suppress their culture. Creating this table makes people feel like they are more accepted and they start to appreciate their own culture more.”

At the Indonesia stand, students were waiting for the famous Pandan sponge cake that is made every year at International Day. Sophomore Kyrene Sugianto, who made the cake, said, “I am most proud of our country’s culture and the different ethnic groups that we have. There are not many days that people can all come together of different cultures and share them so this is a good day to do that.”

“It makes me so happy to see people be proud of their cultures,” said Slack-Watkins. “I really wish International Day was a day that happened more often.”

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