Cultural palooza

Senior Kevin Hong demonstrates the playing of the qeej from the Hmong culture, which originates in southern China. Photo by Sara Koopai

This year’s CulturalFest was expected to be “the biggest and best yet” in the eyes of John Charlton, manager of community programs with the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS).

“The organization has drastically expanded, enabling them to host this festival as their largest campus-wide event of the year,” Charlton said.

Last Friday marked the date of FIUTS’ annual CulturalFest, where participants were asked to “travel the world in a day.” It presented a unique opportunity to see more than 30 international cultures that are present throughout campus.

Senior Austin Mesina, a member of the Filipino American Student Association, participated in the event last year and especially enjoyed watching young kids learn the traditional Filipino dance, “tinikling.”

Mesina said that teaching the kids something experientially was better than having them learn through just questions and answers.

With more performances and students involved than ever before, the turnout did not disappoint. Hundreds of school children weaved their way through the crowd to collect passport stamps from visiting booths that represented different countries. The booths had a number of interactive learning opportunities including belly dancing, marshmallow Eiffel Tower building, and playing with Chinese yo-yos.

The day was split into three main parts: the International Cultural Expo; a reception and silent auction; and the Cultural Music and Dance Showcase.

The International Cultural Expo welcomed UW faculty and students, elementary schools, and the general Puget Sound public to experience an interactive learning environment at numerous booths in Meany Hall.

At the Italian booth, seniors Rosin Saez and Matthew Fitzgerald, both Italian studies majors, taught children a traditional Italian dance called “Giro, Giro, Tondo” and let them try on carnival masks.

Saez said her goal of the event was to give people the chance to feel Italian for “a snapshot of a moment.”

In comparison to the previous CulturalFest, Saez said that this year was larger, so organizers had to be more prepared.

CulturalFest began with the objective of serving as a vehicle to “formalize desire to highlight cultures from around the world and create a repeating event rather than something more informal and ad hoc,” Charlton said.

Not only was there representation of large countries including China, but also small minority groups such as the Hmong, a southeast Asian ethnic group. The population of Hmong is only 200,000 in the United States.

Junior Angelia Cha said Hmong is more than a culture of religion and language. She wanted to be a part of this year’s CulturalFest to spread the word about Hmong and see other cultures.

Following the expo was a reception and silent auction. Items up for bid this year varied greatly in value — from an intricate Tibetan picture frame to theater tickets.

The third and main activity of the evening was the Cultural Music and Dance Showcase, which consisted of onstage performances by 10 UW student acts.

Proceeds from the auction and showcase ticket sales went to fund FIUTS programs such as local home-stay and International Student Orientation.

Charlton said the aims of the event are to promote student leadership at the university, to learn respect for other countries, and to promote a desire to expand knowledge. He also hoped to leave a lasting effect on the community with an understanding of effective communication between cultures.

FIUTS has been affiliated with the UW since the 1940s, yet this is only the second year that CulturalFest has been a major affair. FIUTS is a nonprofit organization founded by staff and faculty to bring cultural integration and awareness to the UW.

“[Visitors] see things [they] have never seen before, meet people [they] have never met before, and learn more about the world,” Charlton said. “As a result, [they] become better global citizens.”

Reach contributing writer Laurel Rice at development@dailyuw.com.

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