Diversity unites at cultures festival

Liala Helal

Students were able to hear, taste, see and feel the diversity of campus Thursday.

Aromas of ethnic foods and pastries, sounds of cultural music, and the sights of rich colors of flags and people in traditional dress drew guests into Coffman Union’s Great Hall during the University’s first-ever International Cultures Festival.

“It’s a really hands-on approach of learning different cultures,” said Lydia Cheng, a member of the Chinese American Student Association. “We’re bringing the world to the student body.”

More than 14 student organizations showcased their cultures and message to approximately 350 attendees as each organization gave a 15-minute presentation.

Abdul Basit, the event’s main organizer, came up with the idea approximately three months ago.

“We wanted to give the idea of international unity on campus,” he said.

In the past, student groups worked on individual events, Basit said, and he wanted to create an event that would get the groups together to educate one another and the rest of the University community.

“I thought we could throw a rhythm of unity where every organization is together, and show campus how combined and united we are,” he said.

Using a hands-on approach, the groups gave many students a feel of their culture.

“I’m blown away by the richness and diversity,” attendee Khaled El-Sawaf said.

Each group also had deeper goals, they said.

Friends of Israel participated because group members felt most people don’t know the cultural side of Israel – they only know what they see through the media, group officer Itai Himelboim said.

“We want to show students the side of Israel that you don’t see in the news: the culture, history, music, food and holidays,” Himelboim said.

Similarly, Al-Madinah Cultural Center officer Abdulaziz Al-Salim said he hoped to help dismiss negative stereotypes about Muslims and the Muslim community through the event.

If people can look beyond the media and the stereotypes, he said, they will be able to see the hearts of the Muslim community.

By educating campus about the cultures and traditions of Islam, Al-Salim said he strives to “give Muslims a human face.”

The Scandinavian Club said it wanted to let people know Scandinavia is not just one country.

“There are many Scandinavians on campus from different countries and we wanted to celebrate these cultures along with all the other ones,”

Kari Otteson said while showing a Scandinavian design book.

Minnesota Public Interest Research Group was at the event, educating people about fair trade.

“All the cultures here represent countries having something to do with fair trading and a lot of the countries are being exploited,” said Jennifer Nguyen, a University student and MPIRG intern.

As he ate his fluffy blue cotton candy, Chinese American Student Association president David Cheng said he was happy with the turnout.

“I hope this will continue next year and expand with more cultures,” he said.