The International Fair at Knox College provides its participants with a bigger audience for what they find themselves doing all the time — talking about their culture.
The International Fair at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., provides its participants with a bigger audience for what they find themselves doing all the time — talking about their culture.
Knox College senior Saba Akram is from Pakistan. She lives in her home country when not in school and was at home when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December. The political unrest has piqued interest about her country from fellow students. While Akram welcomes the chance to share her culture with others, she often finds others’ lack of knowledge challenging.
“Being here it can get frustrating,” she said. “People only know what the American media is saying.”
She said she tells people that, in order to understand anything happening now, they must understand there is a long history behind it “or else none of this makes any sense.” She also tries to explain that the unrest is not as bad as some people think. For example, while the country was placed in a lockdown after Bhutto’s death and her family stayed home that day, things returned to normal after just a day.
But even before the current political problems, Akram, an art major, had been working to dispel the image people have of her country and give them a more accurate account of her culture. That has been one of the biggest challenges to being in a different culture.
“Coming to terms with the fact that I’m different, unique. I have a responsibility to represent my culture and my country,” she said. On the flip side, many Pakistanis only know about America from the media, and she does her best to share with them the diverse society she has found here.
Another big misconception some people have is about Pakistan’s relationship with India. Akram worked her booth at the International Fair with several others, including senior Sukhi Srivatsan, whose parents are Indian. Their booth was titled the Indian Pakistan Unity Booth.
“The unity booth shows that even though India and Pakistan are political enemies, we share common bases and similar culture,” Srivatsan said. “My Pakistani friends are like sisters and brothers.”
Srivatsan was actually born in Africa and spent most of her life in the Middle East before moving to America four years ago. She said her experience in the United States has been positive. Most Americans are interested and eager to learn about her culture and she has not encountered any direct racism, though she said religion does tend to be a “touchy” topic.
The International Fair offered many ways to experience culture. Along with the many multimedia presentations and brochures, traditional music and cultural artifacts, there were plenty of opportunities for interaction. Akram and Srivatsan did free Henna body painting at their booth. The Japanese Club offered origami. Students Against Sexism in Society provided a “Women of the World” coloring book. The Korean Club had traditional games, one played on Korean New Year similar to jacks, said junior Sarah Won.
Won, whose parents came to America from Korea, was born in Chicago. But her grandmother lives with the family, so she speaks the language at home and her family observes many of the Korean traditions and celebrations. At the fair she was dressed in a colorful hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.
Won said her biggest cultural challenge is that most people see her and automatically assume she is from China or Japan. So she does her best to share the lesser known Korean culture. The easiest way, she says, is through food, “especially at Knox College.”
And that tradition held true Saturday as hundreds of students and area residents poured into Seymour Union from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the international buffet. Trays were piled high with exotic foods from a variety of different countries. This year’s menu included roast pig and coconut pudding from Hawaii; vegetarian rice and peas and mango lassi from India; frikadellr and red cabbage from Denmark; flan from Mexico; waffles from Germany; stuffed grape leaves from Palestine; jollof chicken from Africa; beef satay from Malaysia; and other dishes.
The event also included a parade of flags and music by Mountain Lions International, an African-reggae-rock fusion band.
Contact The Register-Mail writer Matt Hutton at email@example.com