BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ- Shortly before COVID-19 shuttered schools and extracurricular activities, juniors Alyssa Pradhan and Helen Liu looked around themselves and saw a lack of representation of the Asian community. This sparked the duo’s decision to create the Understanding Asian Cultures Club, to foster honest discussions and celebrations about traditions and heritages that they feel are normally pushed aside or not fully embraced in the community.
“I felt like at school we didn't learn much about Asian cultures. In history class, we didn't touch on most of the Asian countries. Even when we did talk about some they always related back to America,” Liu said.
Both pointed towards this lack of education and representation as the main reason to begin the club.
Just when they were getting started, with their first meeting scheduled for March 6, the school shutdown prevented the club from fully taking flight.
In November, after the celebration of Diwali, the club shared a video with the staff and student body to bring light to the celebration and to bring familiar faces to the topic.
One of those familiar faces was freshman Gia Ghosh. She said she was able to see how important it was to be involved, citing not many people being fully aware of the celebration as one of her reasons to want to be involved in the making of the Diwali video.
“Most people only have eyes for their own culture and religion, but I think they should broaden their horizons a bit by learning more about other cultures and their holidays and customs,” Ghosh said.
Emphasizing how students and staff can broaden their understanding of other cultures through understanding, Guidance Department secretary Yuthika Deva, who celebrated Diwali in India last year, detailing the purpose of the celebration: “It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.”
Pradhan decided to make the video drawing on her experience volunteering at a local Diwali celebration last year. When she found herself in an English class with students making fun of ancient Chinese traditions, Pradhan said at that moment she knew she needed to do something.
Remembering the Diwali event as amazing and filled with culture, Pradhan hoped to be able to bring that same light to GL and share it with her classmates.
“I wanted to combat that kind of ignorance and that kind of disrespect towards Asian cultures and say that this is present and this has significance behind it, it's not something to be ridiculous and toyed with,” she said.
The activities the Understanding Asian Culture Club will host throughout the year will be open to all students. In doing so, club leaders aim to facilitate discussion and educate others about multicultural Asian communities.