Heritage fest and others highlight diverse population
By Josh Larsen firstname.lastname@example.org October 23, 2010 3:38PM
Asian/Pacific American Heritage Celebration
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville
Tickets: $10 More info: Call 630-355-4322
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Naperville may be part of the American heartland, but on any given weekend, the city serves as a gateway to some faraway places.
Ray Chinese School’s Mid-Summer Cultural Festival. The Naperville Cultural Center’s Day of the Dead celebration. The Vedic Cultural Society of Naperville’s Indian Cultural Festival. These are only a few examples of the international-themed events that dot the city’s calendar.
Jack Shindler, North Central College English professor and director of international programs, said such programs help Naperville “break through the stereotype that this is an all-white suburb of Chicago that has no diversity at all.”
North Central is host to the city’s next such event, the Xilin Association’s Asian/Pacific American Heritage Celebration, set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Wentz Concert Hall. The evening will feature performing groups representing Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Hawaiian, Mongolian and Indian traditions.
“Our goal is to have people from a non-Asian background in the audience to enjoy our culture,” said June Yang, chairperson of the planning committee for the event. “If you enjoy people’s art, their culture, then you will understand each other more.”
To that end, Yang encourages the performing groups to sell tickets to unfamiliar faces, “not just their mothers and fathers.”
This will be the eighth year for the celebration. After being in Central Park the past three years, organizers decided to move indoors for 2010.
“Last year, we did it outdoors, and it was a disaster,” Yang said. “We did it twice, and twice it was defeated by the weather.”
Shindler said North Central was happy to welcome the event. Part of the college’s mission, he said, is “to do whatever we can to raise awareness of different cultures that are represented in this area.”
Shindler said he still occasionally hears from minority students who report being harassed while out on Naperville’s streets, so he understands that prejudice is an everyday reality.
“We’re hoping to just increase understanding and awareness that not all of us see the world in the same way,” he said. “People always say that festivals and food are just step one, but at least they are that.”
The city of Naperville believes in such events to the point that many are funded by special grants.
“It’s a huge benefit, not only to have the diversity (in Naperville) but to showcase it,” said Katie Wernberg, community grants coordinator for the city.
Wernberg has attended many of these cross-cultural events, where she sometimes finds herself in the minority population.
“(At) some of them, you feel you’ve really stepped into another culture, which is really cool,” she said. “Some of them, it’s a mix. It’s great both ways.”
And when things become unfamiliar, Wernberg said, another audience member is usually able to help.
“Sometimes a person will sit next to me and translate things for me and even tell me why this is significant in their culture,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”
For many of these groups, that sort of cultural education is the main goal.
“We try to mix in this society, but we also want others to see what Asian culture is like, more than the stereotypes,” said Yang of the Xilin Association. “We want to do it at the community level.”