Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Celebrating in diversity and looking beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas at Augustana

With Christmas just around the corner and Thanksgiving last month, Augustana’s campus is awash with holiday festivities. Christmas trees are being lit, Christmas concerts given, festive dinners hosted in the dining hall. Campus closes for the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, not to mention Easter. That these events would be acknowledged on a large scale is logical. However, a student body as culturally diverse as Augustana’s is bound to have more expectations when it comes to the events they celebrate together and what those communicate about their cultures. Student leaders from various groups across campus discussed the ways in which they make sure Augustana is aware of what else we have to celebrate.
In the brightly-lit living room of Casa Latina, junior and Latinx Unidos vice president Mayra Arevalo spoke  about why diverse representation is so important. “We all come from such different places, and we all come into college not knowing anything,” Arevalo said. Having student groups plan celebrations that were important to its members, she added, provides them with a sense of familiarity, but also enables them to share their culture with an appreciative community.
Dia de los Muertos is the festival with the most meaning from Arevalo and her fellow members. “It’s something that’s so powerful for our culture, but a lot of people are not aware of it,” Arevalo said. She also spoke about their tribute to Our Lady of Guadelope, which will take place on 8 Dec. in Centennial Hall from 6-8pm. “It’s a festival that has been happening since 1531, and  it’s nice to see the community seeing that,” Arevalo said.
Sophomore Julian Pacheco, president of Hillel,  Augustana’s new group for Jewish students, spoke about the group’s Hanukkah party, which will take place on 9 Dec. in Evald Great Hall at 5pm. “Hanukkah is one of the more well known Jewish holidays, as well as one of the happier holidays, and we wanted to open it up to everyone this year and say, ‘Hey, we are here’ as well as raise awareness about the culture,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco started Hillel last year, after encounters in Southern Missouri, which is where he hails from, convinced him that more people needed to be aware of Jewish culture. “The fact that these events are planned by students shows other students that they can be a part of these too,” Pacheco said, referring to the Hanukkah part. “Only students know what other students like.”
Other culture groups also have celebrations on which they focus their main efforts. For example, the Asian Student Organization (ASO)  hosts the Mid-Autumn Festival and Asian Night, while the African Students Association (ASA) organizes Afro Fest every spring. The Office of International Student Life contributes mainly through its programming board, the Global Engagement Team (GET), which organizes Diwali in the fall, the International Street Fest in the winter and Holi in the spring.
Senior Jingwen Yang has been involved in GET since its inception and is now executive chair. “We look at all the events happening around campus,” Yang said of the team’s process of choosing which events to hold. “We don’t want any conflicts happening.”  According to Yang, two of the team’s founders were from Southeast Asian nations, and Diwali and Holi were the celebrations they felt would be most relatable and recognized by the Augustana community at the time.
Student organizations which represent many different nationalities frequently experience this debate of which celebrations can best represent multiple cultures. Junior Hawarit Jemal, ASA vice president, explained that AfroFest was partly created for this reason. “We have a lot of different cultures in Africa,” Jemal said. Not just in Africa – even one country, like Ethiopa or Ghana, has several cultures. With the fashion shows and informative sessions and the food, that’s what AfroFest is for, to show what Africa is about.”
Yang also drew attention to one of the challenges culture groups face when organizing their events, namely the conflict between raising sufficient awareness and attracting enough attention to the group. She spoke about events organized by Sustained Dialogue and the Tea Talks organized by Augustana’s Women’s and Gender Studies department as examples of how to generate initial interest. After that, however, events needed be organized on a larger scale. “If we try to make a new culture too serious in the beginning, that’s not attractive to the public,” she said.
“People just want to have fun when they’re getting a taste of a new culture, especially if it’s something they’re really unfamiliar with. So you have fun together, and later you learn.”
Pacheco agreed with this approach, saying that while the Hanukkah party would be attended by a local rabbi, there would also be free food, the dreidel game and a skit. “If it wasn’t enjoyable then fewer students would show up.”
Jemal was also familiar with the debate of entertainment and attendance versus cultural awareness. “If you just put it out there as an educational event, it’s just going to be another lecture to which someone has to come,” she said.
Nevertheless, these student leaders find other ways to spread information through their groups. “In our meetings we talk about various cultures in Asia – this week, for example, we’re talking about Nepal,” senior Jason Jung, ASO president said. The connections made within the group enable members to experience cultural celebrations with an authenticity that is sometimes missed at Augustana. He described a visit to an Indian friend’s house over Fall Break. “I think I learned more about Diwali there than I did through years of Diwali celebrations at Augustana” Jung said.
According to Jung, events organized by organizations need to provide more substantial information about the celebrations they helped host. He pointed to the Black Student Union, which recently taught its Soul Food Dinner guests the history of soul food before the meal itself, as an example of how to integrate information and entertainment in its events.
Jung also talked about how the increased diversity at Augustana and the enthusiasm of domestic students  made it easier to get support for cultural events. “Lots of American students have been interested in these events, though they may not be involved in the groups,” Jung said. “They’ve told me how excited they were for Mid-Autumn Festival or Asian Night.” Yang agreed, saying the attendance of “American friends” at the GET team’s events provided the motivation to make the celebrations more informative. 
Yang agreed, saying the attendance of “American friends” at the GET team’s events provided her motivation to make the celebrations more informative.
Arevalo and Jemal felt that their respective group meetings as places where they could talk freely and attentively about their cultures. “We talk about issues we want to address back home, as well as the problems we’re facing here. We talk about the pros and cons of our weeks,” Jemal said. The ASA collaborates with World Relief Moline to organize dance and informative sessions during some meetings.
Latinx Unidos hosts “Cooking with LU” at its weekly meetings, an opportunity for members to share the cuisine of their countries with each other. “At first, we just showed them how to cook but then we saw they weren’t gaining any knowledge about the country,” Arevalo explained. “So now we have Powerpoints that give people background on why the food is important to the country or whether the ingredients are produced there. You learn something and it’s fun.”
Non-members are always welcome to join the meetings. “We emphasize the idea of family, and we want to welcome everyone into that,” Angie Quezada, senior and Latinx Unidos secretary, said.
Many student leaders expressed a desire for more collaboration with each other. Yang said that while there was often an informal sense of agreement, she would love to have an established alliance with other culture groups. “It’s definitely necessary for all of us to get together and talk. That’s important as student leaders,” she said. 
“I would love to do more with other minor groups on campus,” Pacheco agreed. “I think that fosters a really good relationship, especially if they are religious groups.” He expressed interest in having greater communication with groups like Interfaith Understanding and the Muslim Students Association. 
“Sometimes there has been animosity between the Jewish community and people as the Muslim faith, and I don’t like that,” Pacheco continued, describing a trip to a mosque with his youth group that fueled his interest in reaching out to groups on campus.
“On this campus and in this country as a whole, it sometimes feels like Christianity is thrown in people’s faces,” Pacheco said. “I’m not saying we need to change that, but people don’t always understand that there are other holidays going on for other religions. And the minority and religious groups are good about knowing that.”
Alliances between the groups begin in relatively simple ways. Latinx Unidos has already had joint meetings with the Black Student Union and are planning to meet again in the future. “It’s really interesting how in tune we are with each other,” Quezada said.  
This kind of collaboration also has its disadvantages. “Sometimes I feel like there’s this disconnect,” Arevalo said. “The campus sometimes sees us as minority groups so they try to combine all of us, but we have our differences.”
Student leaders also spoke about the other festivals, the ones they wished they could share with the rest of the Augustana community. Pacheco said he would like to see the Jewish festival of Tu BiShvat and Purim celebrated at Augustana at some point. Jemal, who is Ethiopian, talked about celebrations she personally missed while at Augustana. “Most of our celebrations are religious, and I know we can’t really show that religious part, but we would love to celebrate our New Year or maybe Easter,” she said.
Jemal also said she hoped to see an event on the scale of Sloughfest happen at Augustana someday for the purpose of drawing attention to cultures both inside and outside the US. She hoped it would be a student-driven effort. “These groups help students recognize that there are so many different cultures and issues outside of this continent,” Jemal said. “You’re going to meet a lot of different people, and you’re going to have to have an open mind. So you need to learn about the world.”

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Celebrating in diversity and looking beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas at Augustana