On June 18, 2022, tables were arranged and doors were opened in the Nepean High School cafeteria. From 3:30 to 6pm, the school partook in its multicultural night event, run by the Diverse Student Union (DSU). Upon entering, visitors were instantly presented with the grand layout of stands; many bearing flags of their culture’s respective nations, with an assortment of cultural items and articles bestrewed across their surfaces. Balloons of all colours lined the walls too, making the sight a truly vibrant one.
The multicultural night was an event that the DSU would run annually each May, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it had been cancelled for three years. All until this year, when the members of the DSU decided to bring it back. It wasn’t an easy task, however. As Ms. White, the teacher supervisor for the DSU, put it, “there are always challenges with competing visions or understandings of culture. But that is where the importance lies, in the struggle for understanding of one another.”
The event had to reschedule its date several times, the last time being moving from Thursday the 17th to Friday the 18th due to a tornado warning. Nevertheless, despite any hurdles faced along the road of planning, the event was still able to come to fruition.
Multicultural night was an event that was very much alive. Throughout the cafeteria, students at their stands were giving explanations about their cultures, practically everyone was making conversation with each other, food was being tried, and many wore their own cultural clothing. Music resonated from a loudspeaker in the corner of the room, playing songs from a shared playlist of different kinds of cultural music.
“It was so cool to see so many students coming and supporting other students,” Said Sabrina Kayed, one of several teachers who attended in their own cultural dress. “I think for our first big event after Covid, this was a really big start.”
A big part of the event was the food. At some stands, the people running it actually put the food together, such as the Vietnamese stand who made delicious spring rolls. Many stands gave explanations about what the food was called, how it’s made, or what it signified in their culture. All in all, multicultural night was definitely a tasty one.
An incredible feature was that every cultural stand was different. Many had some form of a sign giving facts or tidbits about their culture, along with photographs or maps. The stands for Muslim countries in particular made use of boards that had been made for the Muslim Student Association’s bake sale a few weeks prior.
Many of the apparel and items the students had brought for their stands came from home. While giving explanations about the cultural significance of the things adorning the table tops, presenters treated their objects carefully so as not to damage them and the people listening treated them with respect and gave attention to the explanations given.
“I would say this is a great way for students to express themselves through dress, music, food, dance, and traditions. My favourite part was the people who wanted to learn about my culture and seeing others who were sharing theirs,” Said Shaina Teitlebaum, a student who helped run the stand for Judaism.
Throughout the course of the night, there were a few intervals wherein the circulation of the crowd could take a break and the guests could watch something happen up by the stage. Near the start, it was DSU members giving a warm introduction to the event, but as the night went on, these intervals gave way for presentations of traditional dances. The first of these was the Debkeh, a dance originating from Palestine. In this, three dancers all dressed in black held on to each other and danced back and forth in front of the crowd.
The second, a little later into the night, was an Afghani dance which started off with a few dancers performing in front of the crowd who swayed along. Amazingly though, as the song and dance continued, many of the students joined in, forming a circle of held hands. This exciting occurrence is possibly the best metaphor for the event as a whole, many people of different origins and backgrounds joining together hand-in-hand to just have fun. As commented by Lea Ghalayini, one of several students who took part in the liveliness, “My favourite part was when all the cultures came together and put aside their differences.”
Students and families weren’t the only guests at the event however. For a short period of time near the start, MPP Joel Harden had been present at the event before leaving. There was also the appearance of School Trustee Justine Bell and the Superintendent Shannon Smith.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to share aspects of their identities and to celebrate their cultures. I think the event promotes an inclusive culture at the school,” Smith remarked of the event.
As the event finally drew to a close, the music quieted down and people started to pack up and clean. However, until the very end, visitors and volunteers alike still continued to socialize. There were still talks where culture was shared, though the food was gone and decorations were being put away. Even when taken down or cleared off tabletops, cultural materials and ornaments were still being gazed upon. Most notably though, there seemed to be a smile everywhere in the cafeteria, influenced by the cheerful atmosphere of multicultural night.
In the words of Mohamed Filali, one of the DSU organizers, during the final minutes of the event, “The turnout was amazing. The dances, the setting up from the beginning to the middle to the end, I was so nervous! But seeing it, it’s just like a dream come true. We’ve been planning it so long and now it’s finally here.”