UI celebrates its cultural diversity

By Josh O’Leary, The Iowa City Press-Citizen

They were half a globe removed from the calamities that befell their native country last month, but in the weeks since, members Iowa City’s Japanese community have been doing all they can to lend a hand.

The University of Iowa’s Japanese Students and Scholars Club sold baked goods, origami crafts and T-shirts to raise money for Red Cross disaster relief Sunday at UI’s annual Celebrating Cultural Diversity Festival.

Club member Atsushi Yahashiri, a post-doctoral research scholar in microbiology at UI, said his group and other Japanese organizations in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area have rallied together since the March 11 earthquakes and tsunami.

“Now we are united,” Yahashiri said at the group’s bustling booth, one of several dozen at the festival representing UI’s many cultural organizations. “It’s brought us together.”

Two weeks ago, Japanese students and community members collected nearly $600 in donations in downtown Iowa City, and they plan to set up a bazaar table from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday in the Old Capitol Town Center.

“A lot of people feel like they want to do something to help in Japan,” said Yume Hidaka, the Japan outreach coordinator at UI’s International Programs. “So a lot of people are stopping by.”

At the festival’s performance stage, children bopped to music by the likes of the Java Jews and World Beat Ensemble and cheered for dance and martial arts routines. Others sat at tables nearby lunching on samplings from around the globe.

Georgina Dodge, UI’s chief diversity officer and associate vice president, soaked in her first Diversity Festival since taking over the new post last May, making a stop at a Korean student group’s booth for a cup of bubble tea.

“This is subversive education,” said Dodge of using good food and family-friendly entertainment to provide exposure for UI’s many cultural offerings.

Kim Carter, the festival’s programming chair person, said organizers were expecting as many as 3,000 to 5,000 people for the 22nd annual international showcase. One of the biggest draws, she said, was the array of culinary options available at the booth lining the Fieldhouse’s upper running track.

“As they say, food is the international language,” Carter said.

Jarvis Purnell, a UI residence hall coordinator and the volunteer coordinator for the festival, said the day was all about bringing the community together.

“It’s really the premier time to connect with each other and enjoy the talent and food that the Iowa community has to offer,” Purnell said.

Sudan native Amar Hamad, an Iowa City resident, brought his four children to the festival. Eight-year-old Ahmed said he enjoyed the karate and wrestling exhibitions, while 11-year-old Raneem was taken with the Indian music. For 10-year-old Lujayn, however, there was too much going on to choose a single highlight.

“I like all of it,” she said.

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