“Culture is important to everyone because we need to remember who we are and where we came from,” said Tony White, an Ojibwa drummer who played at the Mother Languages Day event on campus last week.
Mother Language Day is celebrated every year at Durham College to recognize the cultural diversity on campus.
“I think it’s important to include this event because it’s a place where international students can come and celebrate their place of birth and celebrate themselves,” said Aida Malekoltojari, the international student advisor at Durham College.
Mother Language Day trails back to 1952. Bangladesh students were shot by Dhaka police on February 21st for promoting their language. Mother Language Day started as a way to educate about cultural diversity.
Photograph by Kaatje Henrick
In 1999, February 21st was declared International Mother Language Day by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.
“There are a lot of politics involved in making of cultures and countries, and it’s important that we look for more context when we hear about it on the news,” said Malekoltojari. “We need to look at the how and why. Why is a country like this? How did it become?”
But the word ‘culture’ has a deeper meaning than just someone’s heritage, according Malekoltojari.
She says the word has been flattened and we need to find the deeper meaning of the word.
“The way we eat, the way we speak, the way we greet people. There are so many other meanings of culture,” said Malekoltojari.
Culture is much more than what we see, according to Elaine Popp, vice-president of Academics, in a recent interview about the importance of internationalization in schools.
“I think culture means a lot of things, like how we perceive each other,” said Popp.
She says there are a variety of ways to express respect in different cultures.
“In some cultures, making eye contact is disrespectful. But in some, making eye contact if you don’t make eye contact, they’ll think your disrespectful,” said Popp. “In Canada, we shake hands as a way of greeting, but in some cultures, any kind of physical touching is disrespectful.”
Shikha Bhavesh Shah is an international student from Mumbai, India. She believes the word culture means celebration.
“Spending happy and positive days with loved ones, while engaged in dance and song,” said Shah.
Her community celebrates nine days of festivities called Paryushan. It is held to worship their Lord Mahavir. During the festivities her community fasts, living off of nothing but boiled water for nine days.
Shah is pure vegetarian and comes from the religion of Jainism, which follows a strict dietary rule. One of the rules is she cannot eat potatoes, onions, and garlic in food dishes.
“On the first day I started, I could barely order the cheese pizza from the Marketplace. It took a lot of time to get accustomed with the different kinds of food,” said Shah.
There are 1,400 international students from 61 different countries at Durham College, according to Popp.
“Here at the college we strive to expand its cultural diversity,” she said. “It’s important to recognize all different cultures so we can improve our own by blending them.”