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In an effort to raise awareness on the variety and multicultural celebrations in this holiday season, the Multicultural Affairs Organization at St. John’s University hosted the fifth annual Festival of Lights celebration. Voted the third most diverse campus in the country, St. John’s does well in recognizing the diverse holiday celebrations that its students celebrate.
Let me confirm the incredible diversity present at St. John’s. Right now I am sitting in the Queens campus Writing Center, and next to me is a student from Barbados, and a white student on the other side. On the table across from me is an African American female talking with a white male. Some of my other coworkers include Cuban, Haitian, Korean, Indian descent and of course I am Ecuadorian. The list is endless.
The Festival of Lights offered dancing performances, singing performances and brief informational presentations on religious holidays such as Chanukah, Diwali, Eid-ul-Adha, Kwanza, Three Kings Day, Advent, and Christmas. I attended and I can verify it was an absolute success. All seats were filled and students proudly applauded the impressive artistic performances of their colleagues.
Let me offer another short account.
I work at a catering hall in Astoria and I once waited at an eighth grade prom. Much like St. John’s, this middle school class consisted of multicultural students. Therefore, the music had to reflect every background. It did. And it was so well received. Instead of seeing that common reaction of “sitting out” on that song that isn’t familiar, every student danced at every song. For the most part. Moreover, their actions were so natural and ordinary; there was no forced effort to tolerate those Spanish and Asian songs; it was the norm.
So my point is, what is the value of presenting the diversity present in our society, in our schools?
Racism and discrimination, I feel have a lot to do with ignorance, because people are simply and plainly unaware, uninformed and uninterested in the multiculturalism surrounding them which directly results in a narrowly defined reality. Anything outside this learned existence is not well-received. But what if these people were brought up in a very diverse environment? What if diversity was the norm? Wouldn’t that promise acceptance? I’d bet yes.
I, for example, was initially raised in an extremely diverse neighborhood but later moved to a dominantly white neighborhood where my race distinguished me and isolated me from the “norm.” Naturally, children not exposed to such differences react inappropriately. But it shouldn’t be at the cost of an innocent child’s self esteem and seclusion. It shouldn’t have been at the cost of mine.
So schools should make the effort to create more “Culture Days,” for example. Days where multicultural students bring in traditional food, perform dances, tell stories, etc. There should be more celebrations, at least recognition, of different backgrounds where students are exposed to learning. Especially in those areas where one race overpowers all others. After all, knowledge is power.
At a young age, people would become accustomed to the presence of differences. Ideally, they would be appreciative of different backgrounds instead of falling back on ignorant criticism. Unknowingly, people would open their minds to the disparate forces working around them that define the society we take part of. Awareness of other cultures promotes acceptance.
When we can understand and accept diversity, we can slowly move towards voluntary participation in forming healthier social relationships, and preventing injustices towards each other.
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