Bridging Fiesta brings cultures together

BY LINI GE | MARCH 9, 2009 7:27 AM

Click here to view an exclusive photo slideshow from the event.

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With an orange kanga — a cotton cloth symbolizing womanhood in many African communities — wrapped around her body, Grace Gathua performed a piece combining singing, dancing, and drum-beating, kicking off the Bridging Fiesta on March 6.

Gathua wrote the song, called “Roho Yangu” in Swahili, meaning “my heart.”

“It’s a song about love,” the UI theater senior from Kenya said. “Love is something we can all relate to and use to tie our cultures together.”

Bringing together various cultures on campus was what initiated the Bridging Fiesta — a talent show — in 2006.

“When we started the event, we were not just thinking about international students. We were actually thinking about American culture also, like the diversity we have within the U.S.,” said Punit Vyas, a UI alumnus and former president of the Organization for the Active Support of International Students, which organizes the event. “So it was an event to celebrate any form of diversity that we found on the UI campus.”

This year’s event manifested the original goal of the organizers. The performances ranged from both American-style break dances and swing dances to singing and playing instruments, featured instruments from outside the United States, including the Chinese bamboo flute and oud, a stringed instrument commonly used in Arabic music.

The event also helps UI international students maintain their own cultures, said Helen Jameson, the manager of the intercultural programs at the UI Office of International Students and Scholars.

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“For many international students, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with their own cultural identity and to maintain that cultural identity even while they are overseas studying in the United States,” Jameson said.

The roughly 250 people who attended the event also enjoyed ethnic food, which included falafel, Zatar bread, Indian fried rice, quesadillas, and lo mein, as part of their cultural experiences. Some local families even brought homemade ethnic food to the event.

Ahmed Alzahrani greeted everyone who stopped in front of his table and asked each attendee if they would like to try a mamol, a traditional dessert from Saudi Arabia made of flour, dates and butter.

Alzahrani’s wife, Azizah, made around 200 mamols for the event.

“This is from Saudi Arabia, my home country. It is one of the most famous foods,” said Alzahrani, who moved to Iowa City with his wife and two daughters eight months ago and plans to attend graduate school at the UI this fall. “We try to present our culture here at this event, and have fun too.”

Although the turnout was less than expected, Mohammed Alhadab, a UI junior in pharmacy and Organization for the Active Support of International Students president, said he was happy about how the event turned out.

“I was really stressed out, facing much trouble as a new president to get things together,” he said. “But people kept coming to me and saying it’s great and they like it. I think this is a success.”

The event was “awesome,” said Vyas — who traveled from Des Moines to Iowa City to attend — because it showcased the students’ collective efforts to celebrate diversity on campus.

“People tend to concentrate on their own pockets. All these things that we see on the stage, they celebrate it. But they have celebrated it in pockets,” Vyas said. “This event brings everyone together. And it’s by the students, for the students.”

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