WORTHINGTON — The Culture Corner at Minnesota West Community & Technical College got its start in 2009, and one could say there have been celebrations ever since.
“Sharon Johnson and I connected with the Culture Corner, and one of our first events was about Israel,” recalled Le Lucht, coordinator of multicultural affairs and diversity at Minnesota West. “Then we did Guatemala, and other things on lots of different countries.
“We kind of had separate pieces at first and then decided to bring it together to unite the entire community.”
This year’s annual Celebrations Around the World event is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 13 in the main building on Minnesota West’s Worthington campus. It represents a joint effort of the Culture Corner, Nobles County Integration Collaborative and the Minnesota West Foundation.
“We have a number of students at Minnesota West that don’t have access to a lot of financial security, so we’ve tried as much as we could to support students of ethnically diverse backgrounds and offer scholarships,” Lucht explained. “This event is really our way to generate some funds.”
”It’s been really good all these years,” added Aida Simon, a bilingual program aide who has worked for the Nobles County Integration Collaborative since January 2004.
Each year, Celebrations Around the World brings representatives of diverse populations from Worthington and the surrounding area to share cultures and traditions through music, food and educational displays. About 30 different countries are expected to be part of the event.
“There are a number of people from not only our communities, but we’re starting to have more and more students,” Lucht said.
Campus students participate
Among the Minnesota West students who took part in last year’s event — and poised to participate again next month — is Jonathan Adams, a second-year student at the college who hails from Detroit, Mich.
“I’m one of our Phi Theta Kappa officers, and I’m also in sports and Student Senate,” Adams said. “I just like getting involved in everything … and doing whatever I can do to help.”
Lucht remembered that during Adams’ first semester at Minnesota West, she introduced him to a new type of cultural experience.
“The first fall he was here, we (she and her husband, Larry) took him to the Scandanivian Smorgasbord at our church,” she said.
Adams enjoyed the experience and soon opted to help out at Celebrations Around the World through his Phi Theta Kappa involvement, providing assistance for a booth on Morocco.
“I was told I could volunteer and talk about Morocco if I wanted,” he stated. “I said, ‘That’s cool.’ It wasn’t really extensive, but I was given some material and I learned it.”
While Adams was able to learn about — and explain to attendees — the meaning of the Hand of Fatima, fellow Minnesota West student Antonio “Fez” Vazquez is participating in his first Celebrations Around the World event next month. He already has experience, though, speaking about his culture at Minnesota West.
“I spoke about Halloween … and just gave ideas about Puerto Rican culture,” said Vazquez, who competes in sports and also participates in Student Senate, of his participation in the Dia de los Muertos event at the college this fall. “It was a complete and total success.”
Variety of nations
One component of this year’s Celebrations Around the World event is entertainment that will be provided by an ensemble of youths that has performed at the one-evening festival through the years.
“We’re bringing in El Sistema — they’re through the Collaborative,” Simon said. “They’re third- through fifth-graders, and they draw large crowds. They’ll be singing and playing recorders and other instruments. They’re from Adrian, Ellsworth and Worthington.”
Other entertainment is slated to be provided by several piano students of Worthington’s Lois Gruis, as well as orchestra students of WHS instructor Melanie Loy and the Minnesota West choir.
Also expected at the event are exchange students now attending Worthington High School who hail from four different nations — Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey. Additionally, there’s set to be a contingent of students from Asian countries.
“I had a meeting on Monday with Mike Cumiskey’s law enforcement classes,” Lucht said, “He has several students from the Hmong community up in Westbrook-Walnut Grove and a variety of other cultures that are willing to participate.
“Law enforcement students, just like Phi Theta Kappa and other student groups, all have to do a number of community service hours. This is a way for some of them to serve their own communities, and also to present about their own cultures.”
Among the many other nations that will be represented are Thailand and Laos. Chansouk Duangapai, a youth development leader at the Collaborative, has participated in the celebration over past years. This time around, Suree Sompamitwong of Worthington will also be at the Thai booth to speak about massage and how it fits in with that nation’s culture; she’ll also dance.
Several Minnesota West faculty members also get involved. Among them is Leah Gossum, an art instructor at the college.
“She and her family always do Croatia and the Czech Republic,” said Lucht, explaining that such treats as decorative cookies are frequently part of their displays. Gossum’s art students also often contribute their efforts to the event.
Chemistry Heidi Tarus showed off the process of how a lava lamp functions one year. She and her husband, will be at a booth representing Kenya. Meanwhile, Minnesota West President Terry Gaalswyk and his family are frequent representatives of the Netherlands. Elias Gomez-Marroqun, who works in information technology at the college, has also demonstrated culture from Guatemela.
Also expected to be present again is Worthington’s Terri Schissel, who has shown off her authentic Old Country Roses china and shared various edible goodies. On the Celebrations Around the World docket as well are an Eritrean/Ethiopian coffee ceremony, booths representing Switzerland and Denmark, Marcy Costello of Lakefield representing Peru and more.
Lucht shared that one highlight of last year’s event was a booth that represented the United States.
“Last year we had a student, Kassandra Lopez, who drove over from Fairmont with her dad and her whole family,” Lucht shared. “I couldn’t believe how enthusiastic they were about sharing, and the information they shared. At 18, she had already graduated with a two-year nursing degree and graduated with a high school diploma. … She’d also won a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship.”
It’s those scholarships that come about with assistance from funds raised by Celebrations Around the World. All individuals who attend the annual event are asked to make donations that go toward student scholarships; it’s hoped that between $1,500 and $2,000 will be raised this year.
People who present their cultures “do so out of the kindness of their hearts,” Simon said, as money designated for scholarships can’t be put toward coordinating Celebrations Around the World. She added that the Collaborative gives teachers vouchers to attend the event and “mingle with the community,” with those vouchers paid for with donations to the Minnesota West Foundation.
“I hope a lot of people attend and show their support for Minnesota West and diverse community,” Lucht said. “This has become a great event.”