Just by taking a look around you there are a kaleidoscope of cultures. How can knowing your background help you to understand others?
French amity Omaima Feriani has a fondness for weddings, and the traditions that come with them. Maybe it’s her youth that makes her enjoy the celebration, or maybe it’s her French and Tunisian backgrounds that help her see things from a different perspective.
“In Tunisia, for weddings we have lots of traditions,” Feriani said. “One that I used to love when I was a kid was that women had to get henna. There are these beautiful designs, but they’re more traditional. For it to stay, my mom used to put layers of sheets around my hand and put a hair band there and I’d have to stay like that for a whole day and I couldn’t do anything else because of that.”
It’s nostalgic memories like this that come with culture. Memories that signify something different for each person, diversity is the blend of ideas. You might already know what henna is, but as Feriani put it, “People here just get [henna] because it’s pretty, but there’s really a huge meaning behind it that I think is important.”
As a female would grow, the amount of henna on her body increased at celebrations. For a bride, her whole arm would be covered with these designs, signifying that she’s becoming a woman.
This example can translate into any other thing, as everything has a specific meaning behind it. With a balance of diversity in our lives, new ideas are transferred into our minds everyday. It is crucial to have diversity in your life because without it you’re not open to new things. A healthy environment should have a mix of people with different backgrounds and different ideas.
Feriani lives in a small town called Montesson, in the countryside of Louverné in northwest France. “It’s a small city, and nothing takes place there, but it’s nice. It’s the more agricultural part of France,” she said.
But Feriani is not only French, she has her fair share of diversity. “My parents were raised in Tunisia, so they still have this really strong Tunisian background.”
Not everyone has one background, many peoples’ background are mixed together, a blend of many cultures.
“Everybody is different, and I think you can learn from people about other people,” Feriani continues. “That’s what helps you open yourself to your surroundings and become more open-minded, which helps you understand each other. If you try to understand yourself better, you can help others understand you.”
In a country like the United States, where people of all races come together, it’s very easy to introduce yourself to new things and to become more culturally aware. But, some people might ask why knowing your background even matters in the first place.
“I think it’s really important to understand your background because it’s a part of your identity,” Feriani said. “You come from somewhere, and I think its really important to be interested and be curious about where you come from.”
Participating in both French and Tunisian holidays, she submerges herself in different traditions. Feriani experiences both Christian and Muslim celebrations with these backgrounds.
“I like having both of these cultures as a background because just in general, its good to be open minded about a culture,” she said. “The fact that I can experience both at the same time is really interesting.”
Feriani provides a perspective from a more matured adult who’s very much an individual and has graduated from college. However, what does a perspective from a teenager your age from a different country look like?
Senior Nathalie Heidema came to the US from Slovakia expecting to see how much people know about their background and where their ancestors were from. Living in a village near Bratislava, she comes from a bilingual household, speaking Dutch and Slovak.
Immersed in her own culture, she painted a picture of what she thought the US would look like. By spending a semester living in Minnesota, however, she was surprised to find that American people put less emphasis on their background than she expected.
“That was something I was really interested in, like knowing where everybody’s ancestors were from,” she said. “People don’t really know much about it, because they started their own cultures and generations here.”
Similarly, Diversity Director Paulita Todhunter agrees with Heidema. The ache to know her culture had been in her heart since she was a teenager, but she acknowledges the fact that most people don’t share her interest.
“If a person is a part of mainstream American culture, there’s not really a desire to dig deeper and find out where you come from,” she said.
But for her, the case was different. “I grew up knowing bits and pieces of my heritage,” she said. “But, when I went away to college, that’s when I really got interested. I started doing research and asking questions, it became my quest for myself.”
Where did this burning urge to find out more come from? Todhunter said that her immediate family influenced her.
“You could see the negative images of your people in history or in the media and think, ‘I’m nothing, I can’t do anything,’” she said. “My aunts and uncles wouldn’t let that happen. In church, we learned about how African people were strong. I was pumped, weekly, with these positive images of strong, resilient, powerful traits that I should have. High expectations and a positive image of my culture made me who I am today. It made me want to be a teacher. It helped me choose my career; that’s how important my heritage is for me.”
So, Todhunter channeled the traits from her ancestors and put them into use at Minnehaha. “My passion is to help people see beyond stereotypes and help someone be more that what they’ve been told to be,” she said.
Todhunter tries to encourage this community and diversity by running the diversity club. The club serves as a place for people of all backgrounds to come together and learn about each other.
“We don’t have enough education of social issues,” said junior Blythe Colvin, one of the leaders of diversity club. “We have classes for math, English and science, but we don’t have classes about caring for each other.”
Diversity is translated into unity and individuality, a sense of coming together. It’s important to be educated about yourself and others around you. As Colvin said, “Knowing where you’re from can help other people respect your culture and knowing their culture can help you respect them.”