The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 17, 1997
Nov. 17, 1997
VOL. 27, NO. 12


An Undergraduate
Life: Around The

Our editorial intern takes us along on her CultureFest tour

Stacey Patton

A Gazette series offering a first-person account of an undergraduate experience

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

For Su-Sun Wang, who has been program coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs for five years, the 1997 CultureFest celebration represented another great leap for the Homewood campus.

"I am very pleased and hopeful for Hopkins," Wang said. "These are exciting times."

The exciting times of which Wang spoke began during the kickoff ceremony Friday, Nov. 7. Tunes from the Dunbar High School band, one of Charm City's best, filled Shriver Hall to begin the weeklong celebration of diverse culture within and outside the United States, and to highlight the multiplicity of culture, ideas, lifestyles and activities present on the Hopkins campus and in its surrounding communities.

Evelyn Amoaka, left, and Anita Bandoji were chairwomen of CultureFest, which this year featured 15 events including everything from lectures and films to music, food and a comedy show.

Later that night, students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to learn how to be Latin lovers as they put their hips and legs in motion with a little salsa and merengue sponsored by Organización Latina Estudiantil.

On Saturday a guided tour of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, one of Baltimore's treasured historic museums, was offered to students. This viewing of wax figures gave them the chance to reflect upon blacks who have contributed to the growth of the nation, culturally and otherwise.

According to Rose Var Gaskins, assistant director of Multicultural Student Affairs, it is necessary to note the contributions of all people of color through avenues such as CultureFest, especially since students are often given only splatterings of those contributions in the educational arena.

"It is super important to know how much worth you have," Gaskins said. "It is important that we celebrate our [own] contributions and educate the larger, dominant society and ourselves. That is the importance of CultureFest--to celebrate and educate."

"The world is getting culturally smaller," Wang added. It is necessary for us to understand other people's cultures because we won't be able to survive otherwise. CultureFest is a process of raising our consciousness about the changing world."

Students join hands to dance as Charm City Klezmer plays its updated take on age-old Jewish music, which was brought to America in the beginning of the century by Eastern European Jews. The Nov. 12 performance was co-sponsored by Hillel and the Jewish Students Association.

Many additional events were geared toward giving students an idea of how other people around the world live, celebrate, mourn and deal with the passing from one life into another. The Bengali culture show on Saturday night featured Bengali folk and classical music, as well as dance and poetry and the best samosas. Students got the chance to experience a fantastic voyage halfway across the world.

The beginning of the week turned to a different note, dealing with pertinent issues that represent the American heartache: race relations, interethnic conflicts, gender and sexuality. A showing of the documentary film Black Is, Black Ain't wove together the testimony of those whose complexion, class, gender, speech or sexuality has made them feel "too black" or "not black enough."

Another film, Skin Deep, took viewers on a journey into the hearts and minds of young people today as they struggled with this country's racial legacy. Students were placed into the context of others as their counterparts from colleges across the country came together to share their pain, anger, confusion and hope while encouraging self-examination and dialogue that took us beneath the surface of America's racial divide.

Race and culture, Wang admitted later, are often thrown into the same hotbed and forced to mate.

"There has been so much of an emphasis on race that it has been confused with culture," she said. "For me, race equals biological makeup, whereas culture equals people and the way they live."

In the larger world, she said, racial, linguistic and cultural origins are more or less independent of one another. Purely random factors contribute to the fluidity of races, making them simply incidents in the long history of human existence.

"But with culture, we get the richness and heritage of people."

At the MSE Library on Monday, Ephraim Isaac, a professor at Princeton University, who is also a biblical scholar, linguist, philosopher, musician and peace activist, lectured to a rapt audience about his personal experiences concerning multiculturalism in today's society and about issues dealing with interethnic conflicts.

The voices and music of Korea expanded upon their rich history in Shriver Hall on Tuesday night. The folk styles of pansori and minyo were among many types of music that expressed human feelings and celebrated the natural cycles of harvests, seasons, village festivals, banquets, planting and fertility, as well as joys and sorrows of birth and death. The folk songs tended to be lively, dramatic and bawdy, representing the aspirations and frustrations of the common people.

"Celebrating Our Diversity" was this year's theme for CultureFest. But one might be inclined to ask whose "our" was being celebrated? Most events attracted those whose culture was being spotlighted. On one hand, you could say that it is important for those people to celebrate and learn about their own culture. But does it work in educating the larger, dominant culture as well?

"CultureFest works for that population of the Homewood campus that has the courage to get out and learn something different," Wang said. "We live in a society that stresses more emphasis on the ideal of the individual. We don't, however, see a person as part of a 'people' or group. That is what CultureFest does. We have to realize that we all have special gifts to give each other."