Youth find culture at festival

Sara Goo

When an elementary school class visited campus Friday, University students tied white strings around the children’s wrists.
The significance of the strings was just one thing Marcy Open School students learned about Laotian culture at the Asian American Cultural Center’s third annual Barrio Festival.
Students from the Lao Student Association said the white strings are part of milestone celebrations in Laotian life, like a wedding or a new year. Celebrants tie the white strings around one another’s wrists to bless their loved ones and cast out evil spirits.
The cotton bracelets should be worn for three days and three nights, then cut off and placed under a pillow for three additional days and nights, said architecture major Phonexay Pongmany.
Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students spent most of Friday afternoon gambling for fortune cookies, eating fried rice, dressing up in traditional Cambodian clothing and practicing Laotian handwriting. Although they weren’t the most comprehensive representation of the cultures, the games at least managed to capture the pupils’ interest.
“(The children) can see many things — learn many cultures,” said sophomore Youa Vang of the Hmong Minnesota Student Association.
As Vang wrapped colored yarn around a cardboard figure to make an ornament, she explained why she enjoys sharing her culture with others. “Some of us (Hmong students) — we’ve lost it,” she said of her culture.
Vang recently became involved with the student group after shying away from her roots. Now, as a bilingual student, she hopes to give back to the Hmong and mainstream communities. “You can kind of be a bridge between them.”
Of the seven organizations under the umbrella of the Asian American Cultural Center, four set up tables of crafts and games particular to their cultures.
“I like how you have different crafts like this,” said fifth-grader Carrie Klamecki, who made an ornament at the Hmong booth.
Teacher Kathy Scoggin from Marcy Open School said she brings her class to the University event every year as part of the school’s mission to encourage learning about different cultures. “They think it’s great,” said Scoggin as she rounded up the children at the end of the day.
When asked about the cultural ambiguity of the event — “barrio” means neighborhood in Spanish — none of the University students who participated knew the reason for the name.
The cultural center’s president-elect Chi Nguyen said, “It’s a mini-festival of nations.”