GCU's rich tapestry unfurled at Culture Fest

Nicholas Salazar (center), Secretary of the Native American Student Union, tells students about the club's Culture Fest display, which includes a Bible translated into the Navajo language, fry bread and weaved baskets. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Lauryn Honwynewa never lived in a city before her freshman year at Grand Canyon University.

Hui Aloha Club member Kassidy Oamil performs a Tahitian dance at the event.

“Some of us come from places with no electricity or no running water,” she said, much less paved roads, a Walmart or a McDonald’s. “Ever since kindergarten, I haven’t gone to school with other races.”

So it was a whole new world for her when she arrived in sprawling west Phoenix, in one of the most diverse areas of the city.

Honwynewa, now a sophomore, soaked in more of that diversity Thursday on Juniper Field during Culture Fest.

Her club, the Native American Student Union, is the smallest ethnic group on campus. It shared pieces of the Native American culture at Culture Fest, the biggest event of the year for the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office.

Students dressed as flight attendants escorted fellow students from booth to booth, each representing a different country. Representatives from those nations – 22 nations and cultures were at the event -- had one minute to dole out interesting tidbits at the travel-themed event, called “All Around the World.”

At the Native American Student Union stop on the tour, visitors could flip through a Bible translated to the Navajo language and view jewelry, woven baskets and fry bread.

“There are about 20 of us (in the club) who are Native,” said club secretary Nicholas Salazar, who was happy to share his culture, particularly since he said a small campus group such as theirs can be easily glanced over in a space like GCU, which touts students from more than 80 countries and cultures.

The GCU Samba Ensemble provided some Brazilian drumming. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

Even within the club, each student represents a different Native American culture. While Salazar is from Gallup, New Mexico, and is Navajo, Honwynewa, who is from northern Arizona, is Hopi.

“It’s really nice to share our culture because some people have no idea we’re still here. It’s good to tell people about us,” Honwynewa said.

Legal studies/economics senior Nathan Abraham said people have no idea, either, that his home country of Eritrea exists.

He learns all the time from people that they’ve never heard of Eritrea, and he was ready to tell students about it: It’s a country of 6 million people in eastern Africa, above Ethiopia, that gained its independence in 1991.

“An interesting fact about us is more than 30% of our fighters were women,” he said of women making up a third of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front during the country’s 30-year war for independence. “Also, we don’t have an official language.”

Another interesting fact: Comedian Tiffany Haddish (“Girl’s Trip,” “Night School,” “Like A Boss”) is Eritrean.

Abraham moved to the United States from Eritrea when he was just 10 years old.

“It’s very interesting to learn about the different countries,” Abraham said during a break between tour stops.

At the Samoan booth, visitors learned about American Samoa, a U.S. territory, and Samoa, an independent nation. On display at the booth: an elaborate headdress that would be worn by the daughter of the high chief, along with a tower of Spam, corned beef and Vienna sausage, some of the favorite foods of Samoans.

Samoan students don’t have a club on campus but sought out and found each other.

Oriana Mailo (center), a prepharmacy sophomore, shares some of her Samoan culture. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

“There’s a little group of us,” said prepharmacy sophomore Oriana Mailo.

Culture Fest, she said, is “such a great way for our cultures to get together.”

At the Bangladesh booth, students saw the sparkling, elaborate sarees on display, and at the Ireland booth, they learned about the Brigid’s cross -- a three- or four-armed cross with a woven square in the middle that’s associated with Brigid of Kildare, one of the patron saints of Ireland.

Biblical studies sophomore Moises Rodriguez told visitors at the Honduras booth that the country is home to stunning coral reefs, that the Garifuna people are a big influence on the nation’s music and dancing, that coffee is “huge” (along with plantains and seafood), and that the country is tied to its Mayan history.

Moises Rodriguez (left), a Biblical studies sophomore, represented his home country of Honduras. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

“I get to share part of me,” Rodriguez said about the best part of Culture Fest. “And I can teach people new things.”

In addition to touring various “countries,” the 800-plus students who attended were treated to a buffet line of taquitos and Asian dumplings. They also got to spin a wheel and win various prizes, from T-shirts to hats, if they got their Culture Fest ticket – their “passport” – stamped by at least 10 countries.

They also watched performances that ranged from poetry – “Together I can show you how to be better. … Open your ears and uncover your eyes, See me! See me!” went one poem – to a rhythmic performance by the GCU Samba Ensemble, to a calming Native American flute performance by Salazar.

Kassidy Oamil, Mikaela Bega and Alyssa Catbagan, members of the Hui Aloha Club, which is made up of the campus’ Hawaiian students, also performed different Tahitian and hula dances.

They each started to learn those styles of dancing when they were just 5 years old.

“It’s normal for you to dance at a young age,” said Catbagan.

Freshman elementary education major Rebekah Calvert said she was passing all the colorful booths at Juniper Field and decided to stop by.

It made her want to travel, she said.

“I used to live in South America. It makes me want to go back.”

Kaia Ballance, a freshman studying biological sciences, said a new thing she learned at Culture Fest is that Halloween is the ancient Celtic New Year.

“I thought that was cool,” Ballance said.

The Irish booth featured the Brigid's cross (on table at left), associated with Brigid of Kildare, a patron saint of Ireland. (Photo by Garrett Ohrenberg)

Freshman psychology student Sophie Erickson said she had never heard of Eritrea and now knows a few things about the country.

She attended Culture Fest, she said, because, “I’m actually from Indonesia. I was hoping I would find people from there here at this event.”

Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office student coordinator Shahiba Bhattarai, a junior health care administration major, said “Culture Fest is a place where we can be united in how diverse we are and how rich we are in our culture. … It’s to show what makes us who we are.”

Next up for the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office: The Hui Aloha Club Luau on Thursday, March 18.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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Bible Verse

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. (1 John 3:1)

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