Day: September 20, 2010

Parade and Festival: ‘What a Great Day’

The Parade of Nations and the Multicultural Food and Music Festival graced the campus and community Saturday for the 21st time. It was a day on which different people did the same thing–celebrate diversity. The theme of the day: “Many Nations, One Heart.”

Bob Wenc summed up the doings, “It’s like a rainbow. So many different cultures, styles and stories.” He says Tech has about 700 international students from more than 70 countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. He worked on the event as a representative of International Programs and Services. He loves the work. “Exiting,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something for the community and the University. We all want to matter. This is my way.”

The parade wove through Hancock and Houghton like a ribbon. Flags danced. The native attire was gorgeous. The weather was windy with a fall chill in the air; the mood was calm and warm. Amid all the pageantry, the music was a clarion call for getting along.

Curbside, the little children watched in wonder. “This is great,” a retired elementary teacher said. “It’s good for our children–that they grow up accepting other cultures and sharing them. It helps to promote understanding.”

Abhijeet Vaidya, an Indian graduate student in mechanical engineering, has only been here a month. “I like it here very much,” he said. “It’s a very good place. It’s like home.” What does he want people to know about his culture? “Sacrifice. And respect for everybody.”

The Pep Band showed up in rousing full force–a wonderfully gaudy spectacle, accented by the trademark goofy hats that ranged from a sombrero to a witch’s hat to a stovepipe Mickey Mouse affair. Eric Anderson, a fifth-year student in civil engineering, plays the trombone. He is unabashedly upbeat about the Pep Band. “It’s something unique,” he said. “Other universities have their marching bands. We have the Pep Band. We’re able to do more things, and we have more fun.” He likes going beyond sport events and getting exposure in the community.

Tech’s Chris Anderson has been involved with diversity on campus for more than 20 years. The event, she said, “is a chance to embrace life and the things that make us similar. And we do it through music and food–the best ways to celebrate. It’s fun. It feels good.”

“It’s one of the highlights of the year,” said another observer. “I enjoy the parade. I enjoy the music. But it’s the food after.”

That food was served up in Dee Stadium. Sanchai Kuboon, a PhD student in MSE, is from Thailand. He said food is a marked characteristic of Thai culture. “We are proud of the variety of food in Thailand.” He says it is especially spicy. He was serving up beef curry; a sweet drink made with the longan fruit; and stir-fried noodles.

Another salient feature of Thai life, he said, is martial arts. And a third is respect for others, manifested in part by the Thai way of greeting people: hands together, as in prayer, and a bow. Kuboon summed up these cultural characteristics as “riches.” He likes Tech and Houghton. “You treat us as we are at home.”

Iltesham Z Syed, an Indian PhD student in ME-EM, manned a food station set up by the Muslim Student Association. He was serving up haleem, a combinaion of wheat, meat, and Indian spices, and an “Arabian dessert”–baklava. Proceeds will be donated to the flood victims in Pakistan.

Syed is from Mumbai, a city of 16 million. “I love this place,” he said Houghton. “I love country life.” He’s been here three years. He spoke of his religion: “My message is clear. It’s peace. It’s equality. It’s friendship.” He laments extremism in the culture. “I feel sad about this. This is not what we believe in. This is not what we preach. What we want is for everyone to live together in complete harmony.” He wears a sherwani, a nearly full-length, tan tunic with a Nehru collar. He says he only wears it on special occasions.

The marching band of Cass Technical High School from Detroit had Dee Stadium throbbing. 30 band members, 11 energetic dancers. Sharon Allen, director, said it was an honor to be involved in “cultural sensitivity–all nations getting along peaceably.”

Madeline Mercado Voelker, coordinator of Hispanic/Latino Outreach, is from Puerto Rico and has worked on this event since 1999. “What a great day,” she exclaimed. Amid all the nations, the local community stands out, too, she said. “I never felt like a minority here,” she said. “This is home. It’s a beautiful place. I wouldn’t change it for anything.” She knows a graduate who moved back to Puerto Rico; his wife is having a hard time readjusting to city life. “The UP stays in your heart wherever you go,” she said.

by John Gagnon, promotional writer

Published in Tech Today