Culture Fest lends global perspective to Global Credit Union Arena

Junior Elissa Santos performs a Philippine folk dance during the Multicultural Office-sponsored Culture Fest on Wednesday at Global Credit Union Arena.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Nadia Fernando donned a traditional sari and chatted with her fellow Grand Canyon University students about her parents’ homeland, Sri Lanka.

Some facts about the country:

  • Lipton Tea was founded there in 1890 by Glasgow-born grocer Sir Thomas Lipton, who purchased 5,500 acres of the Dambatenne Tea Plantation in the high country and began exporting it to the United Kingdom.
  • It was once called Ceylon.
  • Sri Lanka was colonized by the Portuguese in 1505, then the Dutch in 1658 and British in 1796. The country gained its independence in 1948.
  • Because of its shape and location to the south of India, it is known as the “Teardrop of India.”
Junior Miah Villegas performs a traditional Mexican dance at the event.
International foods were served, such as bao buns.

If there was one thing Nadia wanted everyone to know about Sri Lanka it was this: “Just that it exists. That would be a great start,” said the early childhood/special education major at Wednesday night’s Culture Fest, the signature event of the campus’ Multicultural Office and the highlight of Culture Week. “A lot of people aren’t aware of a lot of places outside of America.”

Culture Fest was designed to counter that unfamiliarity. By the time students made their way around the second floor hallway of Global Credit Union Arena, they learned a little more about their fellow students and the countries they're from.

“It’s such just a good experience," Nadia said.

Senior biology major Jazlyn Fernando, Multicultural Office marketing coordinator, invited Nadia to speak about the Sri Lankan culture at one of the approximately 40 tables at the event representing different countries.

Freshman Chinamerem Peterson tries a dizi Chinese transverse flute during Culture Fest.

Jazlyn tabled for India at last year’s festival and performed a dance.

She doesn’t love when people confuse her for being from a different country, though she understands not everyone has that kind of worldview.

What she loves about Culture Fest is “to be able to show off your culture.” Just for people to show interest and ask about where she's from, she said, “It meant a lot. It made me feel represented, like I occupy a space in a diverse pot.”

GCU’s diverse pot includes international students from 90 different countries, as of fall 2023.

Freshman Sharell Hernandez (right) gets a henna tattoo from senior Hannah Prescott at the table representing Malaysia.

The Multicultural Office at Culture Fest wanted to showcase not only booths and culturally diverse food but performances – everything from Hawaiian and Filipino dances to Canadian song.

Attendees could also drop by the Malaysian table for a quick henna tattoo by Hannah Trescott, a senior elementary education/special education student and Multicultural Office student leader.

A student gets a henna tattoo of three crosses.

Though she isn’t Malaysian, Trescott lived in the country for seven years with her family. Her parents are both educators who taught at an international school there. She wants to do the same when she graduates in April.

“It’s cool to share more of the world and bring another culture to life,” said Trescott, who has participated in Culture Fest for three years. But what’s coolest? “It’s to be able to share more of who God is. He made the world. … It’s my No. 1 goal (to share God’s heart).”

Mathematics for secondary education sophomore Vanessa Omondi of Kenya decided to apply to GCU because her uncle, who attended the University, suggested it as an option for her.

She said “it was a big shock” coming to the United States from Nairobi.

Sophomore Vannessa Omondi represented Kenya and wore earrings that honored the Kenyan flag.

But she’s made a group of friends on campus who also are from Kenya and has felt more at home here.

Omondi spoke excitedly about Lake Turkana in the Kenyan Rift Valley. It is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake.

“We don’t have four seasons. We have only dry season and rainy season,” she said of the country that touts 42 ethnic groups, “and we’re known for our long-distance runners.”

She explained the saying, “hakuna matata,” too, made popular in “The Lion King.”

“It means no worries. If we can’t do anything about it,” she said about her fellow Kenyans with a smile, “we let it go.”

What’s important about the event to her is that, “This is a way of bringing people to our country” – to introduce them to Kenya even though they aren’t physically there.

Sophomore biology major Elissa Santos performed a traditional Filipino folk dance called the binasuan. She gingerly balanced glasses of pink water on her head and on her hands as she twisted and turned her hands during the dance.

It was the poetry of balance.

Santos learned the dance as a member of a Filipino club and wasn’t sure she wanted to perform it. The thought of dropping a glass? Nerve-wracking. But she made it through.

“It’s so cool,” she said of Culture Fest. “The tables are so creative.”

Senior Ezekiel Moreno shares information about Canada.

Ezekiel Moreno, a senior government/legal studies major and a student director with the Multicultural Office, helmed the table representing Canada.

He comes from a diverse family. His father is from Mexico and grandparents are French Canadian.

Moreno was thrilled to show off some popular Canadian snacks, like ketchup-flavored Lay’s potato chips. His family sent him plenty of bags to get him through those tough days at GCU.

And he talked about poutine, a popular Canadian dish made of French fries and cheese curds topped by gravy.

Junior Christopher Morton performs a song using a voice box during Wednesday night's Culture Fest.

“I grew up in California in a multicultural family. I had family who spoke Spanish and family who spoke English. It impacted me as a person and is why I joined the Multicultural Office,” he said.

For Multicultural Office student coordinator Eugene Billings, a marketing/advertising senior, the most important thing about Culture Fest is educating others about the diversity of campus and “just making everyone feel recognized and making a home away from home for students.”

The next Multicultural Office event will be the Ho’olaule’a (it means festival) on April 9 showcasing Hawaiian and Pacific Islander culture.

Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

Related content:

GCU News: Students offer heartfelt observations on Black History Month

GCU News: Multicultural Office skates into new year

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