"Diversity enriches our lives": Eating, learning, and having fun at Cultural Fair '08
Published: Friday, October 24, 2008 - 10:17am
FEATURING A WIDE array of entertainment and tables piled high with delicious treats, the third annual Uni High Cultural Fair was a phenomenal success.
At 10:55 a.m. on Oct. 3, students and faculty members were liberated from class to attend the two-hour-long celebration. Parents, teachers, students, and members of the community mingled amongst each other, enjoying the food, the music, and the vibrant atmosphere.
Unlike last year, when the booths were all set up inside Uni Gym, the fair this year took place outside on Uni’s back lawn and the closed-off Stoughton Street. The 70ish-degree temperature and sunny blue skies served as the perfect setting for the big event.
The vast majority of the fair's attendees appreciated the new location.
"You didn't get annoyed by the fact that you were waiting in line when you wanted to get to a culture, so you were able to better appreciate every single culture," commented senior Karolina Kalbarczyk.
Of course, you can't have a cultural fair without a wide variety of cultures. This year’s celebration featured booths about China, Germany, Spain, Italy, Egypt, and many other countries around the world.
In addition to the dozens of ethnic booths, there were also booths like Girly Culture and American Deaf Culture and Sign Language, which celebrated other aspects of diversity.
The fair even attracted author Marc Aronson, a prolific writer who was in town for the U of I College of Education's Youth Literature Festival. As part of the festival, he visited Uni that morning to talk with the subfreshmen about his book "Race: A History Beyond Black and White." He stayed for the entire Cultural Fair, manning his own booth.
"It's really fun," he said. "The day's beautiful, it's fun to see all the different cultural expressions, and the kids seem very alive. It's a great day."
From dumplings to rum cakes
Students crowd around the beautifully crafted baked goods at the France booth. Photo by Gargoyle staff (click to enlarge)
As always, food was an essential component of the Cultural Fair. Tables displaying mouth-watering treats from a variety of cultures lined the back lawn of Uni.
There were the staples, such as dumplings and fried rice from the China booth, fried chicken and macaroni-and-cheese from the African American booth, and sticky rice from the Japan booth.
But there were also a lot of lesser-known dishes, such as delicate pastries from the Greece booth and rum-cake quiches from the France booth.
Grateful students embraced the opportunity to feast on the free food provided by parents and local organizations. As soon as the bell announced the end to fourth period, they rushed outside to pile their plates with scrumptious goodies.
Thanks to the open outdoor spaces, it was easy to navigate from booth to booth, avoiding the long lines that were an inconvenience last year.
So why is food such a vital aspect of the cultural fair?
"When you give people food, they're happy," commented Helen Cangellaris, who managed the Greece booth. "I think through food, it's the easiest way to learn about other cultures."
When asked what his favorite aspect of the fair was, English teacher Steve Rayburn answered: "The food. To me, food is a reflection of cultures. It's been so much fun for me to see the things that are unique or common to different cultures, and I love trying new things."
A concern among organizers after the previous cultural fairs was that students have a tendency to just grab food and go, missing out on the whole point of the event.
As a result, some booths developed creative ways to draw students into the learning process. For example, visitors to the Thailand/Taiwan booth had to answer a trivia question before helping themselves to the food.
"[My parents] were slightly put off that people were just coming here to get free food," said sophomore Buck Walsh. "They wanted people to learn a little bit about the [Thai] culture, so they said, 'OK, we'll give them mooncakes if they can answer these questions about the culture.' … I think they might’ve just picked up a little bit of culture today.”
Junior Costas Cangellaris, who helped out at the Greece booth, didn’t seem too concerned that students weren't going up to the booth organizers and asking questions.
"It's important to be aware that there are other cultures and people come from different backgrounds," he said, "but it's not extremely important to go to booths and have a page of questions and be like, 'I need to know this, this, this, and this so I can be enlightened about the world.' [The fair's] just a fun activity, with people getting together and sharing little bits of their culture."
College counselor Lisa Micele was pleased with the interest that many students showed this year.
"I'm seeing kids talk to people behind the tables," she observed. "We [faculty members] were hoping it would become more than just grabbing food. It's learning and it's getting out of your own comfort zone and talking to people and understanding different cultures. When you stop and talk to people and engage them in conversation, they love it."
A mix of voices, dances, and art
Members of Alpha Phi Alpha's step team show off their moves. Photo by Gargoyle staff (click to enlarge)
The other major component of this year’s celebration was entertainment. Music filled the air around the closed-off Stoughton Street and attracted the curious glances of U of I students passing by.
Mousa Bolakande, master drummer from Guinea and scholar in residence at the World Music Center on campus, kicked off the event with his drumming.
A group of students led by former Uni guidance counselor Sam Smith joined in and danced to the rhythmic beats of Bolakande and his fellow drummers.
Other entertainers included Uni’s very own Jazz Band 1 and Jazz Combo of seniors Clement Dossin, Miguel Zamora-Mills, and subfreshman Aaron Wilson.
Also attracting plenty of attention were the members of Alpha Phi Alpha's step team.
"[Stepping] has roots back in Africa that were more so an art form used by African American slaves in the early 1800s," explained a team member. "From the beats to the synchronism, there's a lot of symbolism behind it."
Mehndi (henna) artist Zainab Susi decorated many hands with elaborate designs and was a huge hit as well, especially among the girls.
The popular Uganda/Champaign rapper Krukid concluded the entertainment with an incredibly passionate and well-received performance. Audience members were encouraged to join in on the refrains on some of the songs, and the speakers blasted on Stoughton for a satisfying ending to a successful fair.
Until next year …
Cultural Fair '08 left smiles on many faces. From left: sophomores Eleni Yannelis, Emma Coverdill, and Rachael Kempe. Photo by Gargoyle staff (click to enlarge)
The Cultural Fair's attendees left the celebration with contented expressions and satisfied stomachs.
"I hope that it's a tradition that continues, because look around — doesn't it just have a great feel about it?" commented Micele. "Everyone just seems excited to be here, and every person that I've talked to has felt almost really privileged to be here. They feel like being a part of this is a really important thing."
As everyone returned to their busy lives, participants said they had gained a little more appreciation for the differences that exist among themselves, thanks to the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the day's events.
"My favorite aspect [of the fair] is just that it's time for Uni to get together and hang out," said English executive teacher Elizabeth Majerus. "We don't get the opportunity to get together as a whole community very often. In addition, I think it's really cool that I'm learning things about people. I didn’t know [until today] that Ms. Tyson [math teacher Rachel Tyson] lived in Hungary. You just learn more about the people you spend your days with and who they are and what's important to them, and that's really great."
From our superficial differences to the unique qualities that exist within each of us, the fair shed light on the amount of diversity present at Uni High and in the community as a whole.
Parent Jennifer Hamer — one of the main organizers of the event along with parents Alison Weingartner and Felicia Gooler and students Rachel Harmon and Aramael Pena-Alcantara — said she hopes students came away from the fair knowing more about their classmates and the uniqueness that each of us brings to this campus.
"Diversity enriches our lives," Hamer said. "It makes us ask more questions, see different points of view and ways of knowing and doing. It makes us more understanding and tolerant. If we are serious about educating our students to become the leaders of tomorrow, then we must discover more ways to make it an integral part of the Uni experience."
UNI HIGH'S THIRD ANNUAL CULTURAL FAIR AT A GLANCE
FOOD BOOTHS (20)
- African American
- Cultural Confusion — This is for all of us who have favorite dishes we would like to share but are not quite sure where they should or could be placed!
- Girly Culture
- Native American
- West Indian
INFORMATIONAL BOOTHS (10, some with food)
- American Deaf Culture and Sign Language
- Author and Book: Marc Aronson, "Race: A History Beyond Black and White"
- Center for African Studies
- Center for Global Studies
- Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
- Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
- Center for World Music
- European Union Center
- Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies
- Alpha Phi Alpha step team
- Krukid, rapper from Uganda, now living in Champaign
- Demitri Daniels, Shaolin gongfu master
- Mehndi artist Zainab Susi
- Mousa Bolakande, master drummer from Guinea; scholar in residence, World Music Center
- Uni Jazz Band 1 and Jazz Combo (Clement Dossin, Miguel Zamora-Mills, Aaron Wilson)