Leon Ndlovu, a South African studying business at Pierce College through the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI), reflects on how his understanding of diversity changed after volunteering with the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, based in Tacoma, Washington.
Stephen R. Covey once wrote “Strength lies in differences, not similarities.” I realized this when I first arrived in the United States. So many nations are gathered together as one, and live in harmony. Honestly, I thought I had already gotten a taste of diversity but then I volunteered at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center’s (APCC) 16th Annual Asian New Year Celebration.
Overall, the event featured Asian countries that presented traditional dances and music performances throughout the day. The ceremony began at 11:00 am on Saturday, but we went on Friday to help prepare for the main event. We then returned on Saturday to begin our shift from 6:50 am to 6 pm. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration of the APCC staff and the Pierce students. No task seemed too difficult for us. Through synergy and determination we helped vendors settle in before 11:00 am. We were still on our feet when the event began, offering our assistance to those who needed it. Apart from assisting vendors, we also sold raffle tickets and gave out information about other activities going on within the hall.
According to the UN World Commission on Culture and Development Report, “culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterizes a society or a group. It includes expressions, community practices and material or built forms.” This event allowed me to witness the true beauty and complexity of Asian cultures. Honestly, I felt the presence of Asia surrounding me to an extent that I forgot I was in the United States. The Japanese Kimono, Chinese dragon dance and the closing performance by the Samoan group captured my heart. I couldn’t see all the performances as I was in the exhibition hall most of the time, but for a moment I got to see the true beauty of diversity. The sharing and exchange of cultural practices for seven hours felt like a lifetime’s experience.
Children as young as seven years old were also performing on stage and no one held back on their culture. It was a day well spent and I believe what I witnessed was the true meaning and purpose of a diverse world. Sharing and experiencing multi-cultural practices is what diversity is all about. It’s what makes us unique and outstanding. If I could, I would relive that day over and over again. I say this, because for once I witnessed the gathering of multiple cultures with positive intentions of teaching and learning from one another.
Different cultures displaying and sharing their traditions with one another is a symbol of progress, harmony, and unity.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.