By Elaine Roman
For a person with an intersectional cultural identity, St. Michael’s can be an intimidating place. It is difficult to find a space that feels totally welcoming. For too long my coping mechanism has been to ignore and acclimate; to set aside my Dominican culture for the security of inclusion in the predominantly white culture of St. Michael’s. This strategy has only provided superficial comfort. I have the privilege to be invisible due to the color of my skin, while many others who share diverse identities do not share that same benefit. Superficial comfort can only temporarily hide internal discomfort with cultural identity. I have struggled with these feelings and I know that others have too, which is why I became involved with Diversity Coalition for the first time this year.
I took the position of vice president of Diversity Coalition at the beginning of this school year, and like many students, this club was off my radar for most of my time here.
Trying to plan events that I have never attended before is the most challenging. The International Festival, for instance, is the largest event held by D.C. The festival revolves around performers that represent different countries, with an intermission to eat an assortment of dishes from around the world. Club members, staff, faculty, and many volunteers pour hours upon hours of their time into ensuring this event’s success. Over 500 people attend the International Festival annually.
I have become highly invested in the International Festival as I have learned more about what it has done for other students. Melanie Castillo ’18 described the festival as her first welcoming introduction to St. Michael’s. When Castillo went to the International Festival as a first year student she felt “embraced” as she saw her flag amongst the rest of the world’s flags. The following year, Castillo became more involved in the festival as the Secretary of Diversity Coalition. Her third year she cooked hundreds of pastelitos for the festival, bringing a part of her culture to campus. “Teaching people how to cook something from my culture helped me come full circle,” Castillo noted.
In past years, Bernard Achinda ’18, current secretary of Diversity Coalition, has volunteered for the festival as a student assistant from the applied linguistics program. In the past, Achinda was primarily responsible for setup and clean up on the day of the festival, but has taken a leadership role this term focusing on international outreach. Achinda shared that the festival is important to him because he, “keeps an open mind to welcome cultures of the world.” Through his experiences at the International Festival, Achinda said he learned lessons of tolerance, awareness, and global citizenship.
Nga Nguyen ’18 has been both a leader for D.C. and a volunteer for the International Festival, and shares a common appreciation for this event with Castillo and Achinda. As a volunteer she has been most involved with food preparation and serving at the event. Nguyen observed that the International Festival is “a way to share a little part of St. Mike’s,” with the local community. Not only does this event build connection between international and local communities it also provides context of “diverse representation” in a college setting for children in our local communities. Nguyen also said that the festival is a “way to let racial and ethnically diverse groups, both inside and outside of our [campus] community, know that we appreciate you and that you are welcome.”
This year the International Festival is being held on November 4th from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the Ross Sports Center. I look forward to see how the International Festival will impact my experience with my campus community and my own identity.