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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest celebrates its diversity through multicultural week, cultural night

Jul 03, 2023 10:21AM ● By Julie Slama

“Cultural night is a way to bring diverse groups into our building so they can showcase their cultures and be more connected.”

Hillcrest High senior Shreejha Sureshkumar took to the stage in the school’s commons to perform, “1,2,3,4 Get on the Dance Floor” in her traditional Indian clothing.

“This is a very fast song, and it makes people want to dance,” she said. “It makes me feel happy in my heart whenever I listen to it. It’s such an energetic and upbeat song that’s supposed to be about being happy and dancing your heart out. It makes me feel happy to perform onstage, sharing this joy with other people.”

Sureshkumar, who began dancing at age 3, performs Bollywood and Bharatanatyam throughout the state. She was to perform “Sheila Ki Jawani” next at the school’s culture night.

“I love doing this. Indian culture is very not noticed, and I want everyone to be proud of their culture,” she said. “I started wearing saris to school dances just for fun. I saw other people starting to do it as well and that makes me feel happy to see that change. Like tonight, the best part is seeing all these cultures come together and support each other. We don’t see that in a regular day at high school, but I think through events like this, the more people express themselves and their culture, the more people will appreciate it.” 

Learning about the culture as well as several clubs, some which were involved in the activities, was why Laurie McBride and her son, Mark, came to the event. Her daughter, Katie, is a junior at Hillcrest.

“It’s a fun night and all the students are energetic,” McBride said. “The dancing is amazing and the food, the free empanadas, are good. It’s just a fun way for Mark to see the high school since he’s going to be a student here next year. This night at Hillcrest really shows its community spirit.”

In addition to dances from India, dances included Jasmine Flower, K-pop, Ai (zen tan), But the World and a typical Mexican dance. School cubs, including Latinos In Action and People of the Pacific, took to the stage as well as student performers singing and on the saxophone. 

It was Hillcrest’s first culture night that emerged from its traditional multicultural week, said Elena Foley, Hillcrest’s community school facilitator.

“It was just so awesome to see the excitement around what was going on,” she said of approximate 400 students and families who attended. “Cultural night is a way to bring diverse groups into our building so they can showcase their cultures and be more connected. We had a lot of families come and were excited to see their students perform and to check out the booths from lots of our different cultural clubs at Hillcrest—Pacific Islander, Chinese, Latinos In Action, ASL (American Sign Language), just so many who wanted to share their cultures. We have such a diverse group of students at Hillcrest.”

There also were booths that offered services in the area because “we do have a lot of students with high need in our community,” she said. There was a booth that helps undocumented students with scholarships for college, one that disseminated health information, another that helps with taxes and yet another, that offers soccer to “a lot of refugees we have here at Hillcrest so it’s a great way to get them involved.”

Foley also let the community know services that Hillcrest provides such as a food pantry and laundry facilities to those in need.

Cultural night was part of the week’s activities that included students wearing traditional clothing, decorating the hallways celebrating different cultures, sampling international cuisine and trying different dances at the Spring Fling, which was hosted by Latinos In Action. 

Senior Ben Barinotto, who serves as the student relations student body officer, helped coordinate the weeklong activities.

“We held events every day during the week from a video about multicultural week to a scavenger hunt with questions based on the cultures at Hillcrest,” he said. “For example, I gave some info about the Hispanic culture we have at Hillcrest, then I asked what is the percentage of Hispanic and Latino population, which is 28.5%.”

Hillcrest’s student body also includes 8.8% Asian, with the most common spoken language being Mandarin, with 1.2 billion speakers. Hillcrest offers Mandarin as one of its language choices, so another question referred to that, he said.

“I wanted a more engaging activity for students, so students get to know what’s offered here in terms of classes and clubs and also which cultures are around the school,” he said. “It’s important to recognize we all have very much different backgrounds, and we need to embrace that.”

Barinotto said that was a lesson he had to learn himself.

“I know sometimes students don’t embrace it; even I didn’t always embrace my Hispanic culture. I grew up in a predominantly white school throughout my elementary years, so I just felt a little bit out of place. Now going to Hillcrest and being able to share and spread the diversity makes it easier for students to embrace themselves and to just share their own cultures,” he said.

He followed in his older sister’s footsteps joining Latinos In Action.

“She shared lots of fun experiences she had in LIA at Hillcrest, so I decided to join. Once I did, I was able to open up to more students like me in that class, and then together it was much easier to share our culture with the school,” he said. “I’ve helped tutor and have done a lot of community service through LIA, but we’ve chosen to share our culture through dance, music and food. For example, in October, we partnered with Earth Club and held the Salsa Salsa party, where we made salsa and then taught the salsa dance and it was a lot of fun. It’s helped me be more open and accepting of my culture and to have that pride in my own heritage. That’s why celebrating Black History Month, Hispanic History Month and all those recognitions as well as multicultural week and culture night is important; I want others to embrace their culture as well.” λ