Culture Comes to Life at ASU
It may not be obvious that Boone is cultural hub, but for at least one day of the year, the community’s connection to other people and places in the world come shining to the surface.
The 11th annual Diversity Celebration at Appalachian State University, held Tuesday, April 3, from 3 to 9 p.m. at Plemmons Student Union, will shed light on the many cultures represented in the High Country, as well as introducing other cultures not so familiar to the area.
Terri Lockwood, director of programs in academic affairs and Diversity Celebration co-chairwoman, said ASU is the place “where culture comes to life.”
“We try bring a variety of cultures to life here at Appalachian ... to give folks a little bit of a taste within the food, within the music, within dance,” she said.
The Diversity Celebration, founded in 2002, began with a $50 budget, two rooms and a hallway. Today, it encompasses nearly the entire ASU student union and has the means to bring in performers from around the world.
“It seems like each year we have more acts, more performers, more singing, dancing, more food,” Lockwood said.
Though the event has grown, Lockwood said it maintains its intimacy. Attendees can easily move from one room to another and observe or interact with other the people, art and stories of other lands.
The schedule is assorted with activities and events close to home and abroad and features a full afternoon and evening of entertainment from local and international talent.
While ASU professor Dave Haney and wife Lisa Baldwin will play acoustic music influenced by the Appalachian region, Kike Miguel y Janiah will perform Latin jazz and rhythms native to their home of South America. At the same time, visitors can attend a belly dancing workshop or watch a show by the Red Herring Puppet Theater.
And that’s just the first hour of the celebration.
Many of the performers, like Haney and Baldwin, are from the community, but they are representative of the many cultures existing in the High Country.
“There are people here that have not necessarily mountain culture that they share,” Lockwood said. “I’ll be participating in the African drumming and dancing. That’s something that’s not necessarily native to Boone, but it’s something that folks around here are doing and we’re sharing.”
The Brazilian-based Capoeira dance workshop led by Gabrielle Motta-Passajou is an example of Boone’s international ties. Motta-Passajou, an ASU professor who has resided in Brazil, France and several other countries, recently naturalized to the U.S. Her Capoeira classes have become a favorite physical education credit for ASU students.
World music and dance coordinator Sarah Bergstedt said Motta-Passajou’s workshop, as well as others, like Scottish country dancing and the Middle Eastern Bhangra dance, are a great way to experience a culture.
“It provides new rhythms and a sense of understanding through movement and music about other cultures, she said. “It’s experiential learning, an opportunity to learn about cultures in an experiential way that adds to your factual knowledge of something.”
Culture will not only be experienced, but consumed at the Diversity Celebration. ASU Food Services has prepared a smorgasbord of samples from around the planet.
Food services assistant director Charlie Wallin said this year’s menu will include Caribbean jerk chicken wings, Russian tea cookies and African lemonade. The foods may be unfamiliar but are nonetheless enjoyable for the audience.
“It surprises people sometimes the things that they end up enjoying that they otherwise probably never would have tried,” Wallin said.
Although located on campus, the Diversity Celebration has become popular with much more than college students. Many area parents bring their children to the event for exposure to worlds not their own.
The 16th Unity Festival, which joined the Diversity Celebration in 2005, is a popular subsection for younger visitors. The Unity Festival, located on the second floor of the student union in the Blue Ridge Ballroom, is where many of the hands-on arts and crafts, like dreamcatchers and henna hand-painting, will be found.
Coordinator Janice Koppenhaver said the festival attempted to represent all the continents of the world this year.
“There’s a woman from Australia who’s doing aboriginal face painting,” she said. “There’s North American, which is a lot of folks from Watauga County who do old time crafts and skills. There’s Japanese and Chinese culture and German.”
The sixth annual People of the Planet Soccer Tournament is another favorite of the Diversity Celebration. Preceding the main event, the soccer tournament takes place April 1 at Watauga High School from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Coordinator Rahman Tashakkori said soccer is the best way to celebrate to diversity.
“Soccer brings people of different nationalities together and with different backgrounds,” he said. “It’s the most popular sport in the world. Every country in the world, they play, and every neighborhood in the world, they play. It is a sport that can get a lot of people involved.”
Adult teams will be comprised of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members representing more than 40 foreign countries, including newcomers Laos, Vietnam and Honduras.
Children ages 5 to 13 will also compete. The tournament is another way to introduce children to other cultures.
“They come and see some of those people from different countries and get a chance to talk to them, even ask them to say a few words in their language, and basically learn more about the existence of those countries,” Tashakkori said.
Whether it’s through soccer, food, dance or music, organizers expect the Diversity Celebration will bring about cultural solidarity and understanding amongst the High Country community and the world.
At the end of the day, Lockwood said, the hope is that what separates people will bring them together.
“The differences in us aren’t so different,” she said. “That the things you may think are different about another culture, when you really participate in it, you can see some of yourself in that. You can appreciate the differences and respect it in that it’s really not all that different from the culture that you may experience.”
Every event of the Diversity Celebration is free. All Diversity Celebration events, with the exception of the soccer tournament, are occurring April 3 in the Plemmons Student Union on the campus of Appalachian State University. The People of the Planet Soccer Tournament is April 1 at Watauga High School, located at 300 Go Pioneers Drive in Boone.
For a comprehensive schedule, directions and more information on the Diversity Celebration, visit http://www.celebration.appstate.edu.