Folks from five continents share their heritage during three-day event.
Students, faculty and staff from Dakota County Technical College and Independent School District 917 gathered in the central commons on the DCTC campus for an early April festival called the Multicultural Celebration.
A longstanding event at the college, the Multicultural Celebration moved for the first time from a one-day to a three-day format. For three hours, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., over the course of three days, April 8, 9 and 10, people from an impressive range of nations celebrated their cultural traditions through food, music, dance, storytelling, photographs, artwork, crafts, currency, ethnic dress, history lessons, conversation, laughter and the sharing of ideas.
Sponsored by the Multicultural Student Leadership Association, the DCTC Student Senate and the Diversity Council, the event featured booths representing a number of countries, including Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Russia, Vietnam, Mexico, Honduras, Norway, Ireland, Ethiopia, Morocco, Cambodia and Ecuador. African American, American Indian and Anglo American booths were also present.
Kris Brown, 33, of Farmington, is a student in the Legal Administrative Assistant program. Brown enjoyed her visit to the Multicultural Celebration, particularly her time at the Somali booth, where she learned that Somali farmers export livestock, including cows, to Great Britain and other countries.
“I found out that Somalis drink camel milk,” said Brown, who also expressed interest in the Moroccan and Honduran booths. “I never knew that camel meat has no fat.”
Hawa Gedi, 20, a student in the Practical Nursing program, was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. A resident of Burnsville, she came to the United States in August of 2000. She is president of the Multicultural Student Leadership Association and represented her cultural heritage at the Somali booth.
“For three days, we get the chance to show off the best aspects of our different cultures,” said Gedi, whose given name, Hawa, means “First Lady,” or “Eve,” in the language of her country. “We are letting people know what life is like in our homelands.”
Featured performers at the event included Patrick Lair, DCTC director of admissions, who sang traditional Irish folk melodies; Sond del Caribe, a Latin ensemble headlined by front man Harold Torrence, a DCTC supervisory management instructor; Tou Ger Xiong, a Hmong comedian who has been compared to “Chris Rock, Jim Carrey and Snoop Dogg—all stir-fried into one;” and Larry Yazzie, an internationally renowned American Indian Fancy Dancer.
Marney Roethle, 38, of Farmington, serves as a student ambassador for DCTC. Recently inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, she also helps out with the MSLA. Roethle found herself sharing the stage with Yazzie during his dance performance.
“I was wearing boots and wasn’t sure about dancing,” she said. “I ended up blowing the toes out of my nylons, but I really enjoyed the experience. Afterward, I told Larry Yazzie that he had a very wonderful message, which advocates ‘Dancing through Life.'”
One of the highlights of the event was the International Taste Festival, which showcased the cuisine of 15 different cultures. Xuong Tran, the multicultural student recruiter and advisor at DCTC, noted that food is a natural way to bring people together across cultural boundaries.
“More than one person told me how much they loved trying all the different dishes,” Tran said. “The whole purpose of the Multicultural Celebration is introducing students, staff and faculty to the amazing diversity at our college.”
Born in Soc Trang, a small town south of Saigon in the former South Vietnam, Xuong Tran comes from a family with three older sisters and two younger brothers. As a result of the North Vietnamese victory in the Vietnam Conflict, Tran’s family was placed under house arrest. He was eight years old in 1978 when his father, a businessman, made the decision to take his wife and children on a perilous escape to freedom by fishing boat.
“The boat was small, but carried hundreds of people,” Tran remembered. “We eventually made it to a refugee camp in Malaysia. After a year or so, we were sponsored by a church in Georgia and were able to relocate to Louisville, a town just east of Macon. Finding a sponsor was literally like winning the lottery. Some families waited five to 10 years to get out of the camp.”
Tran entered the third grade in Georgia not knowing a word of English. His schooling proved to be an ordeal and his teacher reported to his mother that he cried a lot.
“My mom told the teacher, ‘If he cries again, spank him,'” Tran said. “My teacher did just that and I stopped crying. It seems funny now, but it wasn’t then.”
With help from new friends in his school and by watching plenty of television, including cartoons and shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, Tran mastered English. His family eventually settled in Minnesota, where he continued his education, first attending Hopkins High School and then the University of Minnesota.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from the U, but soon discovered that he had a gift for student advising. His position at DCTC is an agreeable balance between advising current students and recruiting new ones.
“My job is a lot of fun,” Tran said. “I like that I’m able to sit down with students and help them with a wide range of issues. I really get to know them on a personal level.”
Tran believes that events like the Multicultural Celebration build trust and understanding between people from diverse backgrounds. “Everyone had a great time,” he said. “People got the opportunity to teach others about their native lands, maybe for the first time, and they really feel appreciated. Next year’s celebration will be even better.”