UMBC recently had a screening of Afro-Mexican rapper, poet, and director Bocafloja’s documentary, “Nana Dijo.” The documentary, which used first person narratives to examine the African diaspora and subsequent anti-blackness in the Americas, probed many thought-provoking issues surrounding cultural heritage in the United States.
One of the most prevalent issues presented in the documentary was the idea that a person can only truly belong to one culture. For example, an Afro-Mexican women described that when she was a young adult, she was often told she was “too black” to hang out with the Mexican circles and “too Mexican” to be affiliated with the black social circles.
When looking at the immense diversity of UMBC, a general pattern can be discerned: many people tend to stick with their own cultural or ethnic groups when finding friends. Alida Hartwell, a freshman bioinformatics major, said she often sees “one person of a different race in a group where everyone else is the same race.”
Although there is intercultural social contact at UMBC, much work has yet to be done in order to make the university a true mixing pot. As of now, sometimes UMBC is simply separated clusters of different cultural groups.
Scores of UMBC students have multicultural backgrounds, with about 56 percent reporting themselves as non-white. It is imperative that the university finds a way to challenge the notion that a person can only identify and primarily associate with one culture.
Fikir Ejigineh, a freshman biology major and member of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Student Association, described her experiences with this issue in the context of her organization. She said that, “Although EESA is predominantly made up of students of Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage, anyone can come to the club’s meeting to learn about the cultures of the two nations.”
She also noted that despite the fact that people who are not Ethiopian or Eritrean may feel like they are not welcome at the organization’s meetings, EESA welcomes the opportunity to educate people about the many political problems currently plaguing the nation.
UMBC should make a concerted effort to promote more intercultural dialogue between its students. This could come in the form of more events such as the Pangea Cultural Showcase which took place on Sept. 9.
The Pangea event, which included EESA and other cultural clubs, fraternities and sororities, attempted to showcase the many student organizations’ cultural traditions and bring them all together.
The many cultures represented at UMBC deserve to be recognized and celebrated in an inclusive and informative way. For this to happen, all students at the university will have to take the time to learn about one another’s heritages in a respectful and accepting way.
UMBC prides itself on diversity, but its efforts still fall short of a truly intercultural community. The thousands of diverse students and their organizations need to actively work with the university in order to break the ice that separates all of our beautiful cultures.