By Kendall Arlasky
In reflection of the political controversy that surrounded the 2016 election and Donald Trump’s first year as president (especially in terms of the border wall), Lewis & Clark’s 53rd annual International Fair was titled “Beyond the Wall: Breaking Down Cultural Stereotypes.” According to Nhi Ho ’20 this year marks the first time that the fair’s theme has had a political connotation and it is also the first year that the events take place over the course of an entire week. In the past, the fair has been two parts: a brunch and a performance.
Ho is the vice president of the International Students of LC, the student organization that puts on the event, and head of the fair.
“There is an array of food from all over the world that is prepared and suggested by the international students,” Ho said. “There is also a performance portion in the chapel where each region has a dance or performance of some sort. There is also a fashion show in which students showcase their traditional attire to the campus.”
The fair is taking a new direction in light of the current political polarization in our country, especially in terms of ideals that support xenophobic attitudes in the White House.
“We have events this year that have never been done before,” Ho said. “In past years we have focused on the fai being a celebration, but this year we wanted to make sure people understand that it’s also a learning opportunity. There are documentary screenings on Monday, and then Tuesday we have a poetry night. It’s a great way for students to share a piece of their culture and a piece of their mind.”
Ho believes the performance aspect is one of the highlights of the event.
“My favorite event is the performance,” Ho said. “There is a lot of preparation that goes into it. It’s so great to see people enjoying themselves on stage and presenting a really beautiful part of their culture. It’s not something that you can always see studying abroad, it’s not a physical thing. It’s very in the moment and I feel like that is a really good way to present your culture.”
Associate Director of International Students & Scholars Bridget Flaherty, who also serves as an advisor for the International Fair, sees the fair as an opportunity for students to showcase their cultures in a nonacademic setting.
“I think it’s one of the only times in the year where we do have an event that celebrates all of these cultures,” Flaherty said. “It’s different from the various symposia that happen on campus because those are very academically focused and can sometimes center around current events. The international fair traditionally has been more about sharing culture through food and performances.”
Almost four months of preparation go into the fair. Flaherty says that they are always looking for more help from students who want to get involved.
“The best thing to do is to step forward in the fall semester and right now the chairs are still looking for a lot of help,” Flaherty said. “We also need people for the day of the fair to help decorate Stamm and the Bon as well as with cleanup. We could always use more help on Saturday.”
Flaherty said that the brunch portion of the event is special because of its close ties with the participating student’s families
“They are bringing recipes from home that someone in their family has taught them to make,” Flaherty said. “For me, it’s great to try a little bite from all these different cultures.”
Devon Conradson ’19 is a veteran student volunteer for the fair, participating since his freshman year. Conradson believes that the cultures represented at the fair are portrayed authentically.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that LC is a bubble, and you could even say Portland itself is a bubble,” Conradson said. “There’s a lack of diversity and I think the fair stands apart from other events at our school because it showcases a multitude of cultures authentically.”
Conradson’s main role in this year’s international fair has been as a dance choreographer.
“The performance I’m choreographing is a same-sex couples dance,” Conradson said. “It’s supposed to be showcasing the LGBTQ community, which definitely shies away from stereotypes in North America, the region the dance is representing. This dance, because I identify with this community, has given me a better appreciation and understanding of that identity.”
The International Fair is moving in a direction that not only celebrates other cultures authentically but also allows students to engage in political discourse. This event gives students the opportunity to become the type of ‘global citizen’ that LC inspires.