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Students expand their cultural horizons

THURS. | 12-8-22 | FEATURES

     Diversity Day is a meaningful opportunity for people to come together and share what makes them unique. Many students and staff stopped by the Rose commons on Nov. 17, to participate in this occasion. Juniors Mia Padilla, Molatela Makhalemele, Saaliha Azam and her sister freshman Samrah Azam, all shared the value of their cultures at Diversity Day. Along with many other students, they educated people about their heritage using posters and important personal stories.


Photo by Sarah Caviness 

     Padilla was born in Mexico and moved to America when she was nine. Therefore, a good portion of her childhood was spent surrounded by a culture that inspires her today.

     “In my culture we do a lot of artwork; that influenced me to do art and inspires me to do things with color,” Padilla said. “[It also inspires me to] spend time with my family and friends and celebrate my traditions.”

     Some of her traditions include celebrating Día de la Independencia every September, and Día de los Reyes Magos, which involves receiving gifts in January. One of Padilla’s favorite traditions is Posadas, which consists of parties in the month of December to celebrate each family member. Padilla collaborated with juniors Amaya Serrano and Melissa Sanchez to display Mexican culture.

     “My culture is not just tacos and wearing Mexican stuff,” Padilla said. “A lot of people think that when they get to Mexico, but there’s a deep meaning to being Mexican and going to Mexico and traveling.”

     Padilla enjoys learning about other cultures herself, and believes it is essential for others to realize the value of Mexican culture. She hoped visitors at her booth would get a good experience and learn what Mexico really is. 

     “I want to teach them facts about Mexico and things that they didn’t know,” Padilla said. “I would definitely like them to know more about my culture.”

     As an exchange student from the Pedi tribe in South Africa, Makhalemele also has grown up deeply involved with his culture. He speaks nine languages native to South Africa along with English. Similar to Padilla, his culture has unique qualities and is very meaningful to him.

     “It’s the culture that we were raised up in and it’s all we were taught,” Makhalemele said. “Growing up with those cultures and traditions and upholding them and continuing to practice them, even with all of this culture erasure, is very important to me.”

     There are several aspects of African culture that have an influence on Makhalemele.

     “The most important thing to me is how deeply rooted we are in my ancestors,” Makhalemele said. “Ancestors are such a big thing in many African cultures and we genuinely believe that if you abandon your ancestors, a lot of weird stuff is going to happen to you.”

     Coming to America for school this year has been a huge change for Makhalemele, but he still carries the habits that he learned growing up. 

     “The mannerisms that I carry around like saying hi to a stranger in a hallway, they look at you strangely because ‘why are you greeting me in the middle of the hallway?’, but that’s how we were taught,” Makhalemele said. “You just greet whoever you see.”

     Makhalemele enjoys comparing his own rich traditions to others that he comes across.

     “I love learning about other people’s cultures, and I also like sharing my own culture and seeing the differences and the similarities,” Makhalemele said. “When this opportunity came up [to be a part of Diversity Day], I was like ‘Yeah I have to do this, I just have to’”.

     He worked with sophomore Grayson Rendon and junior A’kira McCassling to bring together the South Africa booth.

     “I just think it’s so cool how…so many cultures, countries [and] people come together just to share,” Makhalemele said.

     The Azam sisters, Saaliha and Samrah, created a booth exhibiting Pakistani culture. Their grandparents are from Pakistan and they have been surrounded by the culture through their family and religious community. 

     “At this school I haven’t really met any other Pakistanis that I’ve known, and so I guess it’s not really common to meet other people that are also Pakistani.”

     Cultural food has been a vital part of Saaliha and Samrah’s lives.

     “It’s a way for us to get closer, to form connections with each other,” Saaliha Azam said. “Growing up, our mother always made us traditional cultural dishes like biryani and kofta curry, and those were kind of one of the ways she showed her love to us and also showed our culture to us.”

     During Diversity Day, they had vegetable pakoras for people to try. To them, Pakistani culture means family and good food, so having this at their booth was an important aspect. Overall, they hoped to enlighten others about their culture.

     “We wanted to just share more about our culture because we feel like there’s not as much Pakistani representation here,” Samrah Azam said. “We just wanted to educate people more about our culture and what’s unique about it.” 

     Padilla, Makhalemele and the Azam sisters were all able to show others a major part of their lives at Diversity Day. They all agree that it was special to help teach others about something that makes up their identity.

     “It’s what makes us unique,” Samrah Azam said. “It makes us stand out from the crowd.”

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