Skokie officials praise cultural diversity festival
Jan. 15, 2011

Text and photo by Ted Regencia

SKOKIE, Ill — Underscoring the need to strengthen literacy and cultural understanding , Skokie first lady Susan Van Dusen joined community leaders Tuesday in launching the second Coming Together in Skokie festival.

This developed as Mayor George Van Dusen encouraged students to learn a foreign language or two “because the world is getting smaller.”

“By reading books we really learn other people, other worlds, other subjects,” said his wife. “And so, we created Coming Together in Skokie around a book.”

In a village of about 64,000 residents and with about 100 languages spoken, Susan Van Dusen said the book readings and cultural events during the six-week festival, which kicks off Jan. 28, are helpful for area residents in “getting to know a really interesting group of people.”

“All of us should take part in it,” she urged as the mayor and officials from the park district, library, school districts and ethnic communities joined her.

About 3,000 people attended the inaugural event last year, according to organizers. This year, the Indian community has passed on the responsibility to the Filipino community.

The organizing committee has selected the book When the Rainbow  Goddess Wept by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, a University of California, Los Angeles professor and a Filipino-American.

The novel is about a child forced to flee from her home during World War II when the Japanese invaded the Philippines.

Students from Niles North and Niles West high schools will participate in the reading, and they will meet the author on March 7 and 8.

“What this is all about are the stories that we share when we come together, the stories that help us understand how one person’s background is a little bit different from another, and how in fact they are similar,” said Skokie Public Library Director Carolyn Anthony.

District 219 Superintendent Nanciann Gatta said the readings and the ongoing book discussions are an “amazing example of what happens when children bring their questions and their ideas to the table, with a community member who is actually from the culture.”

Gatta, whose district oversees the two Niles high schools, said both research and experience suggest students benefit “when schools partner with organizations and businesses in the community.” She said students then achieve higher test scores, enroll in higher level programs, improve social skills as well as graduate and go on to college.

Starting this year, Skokie middle school students will also participate in the program by reading Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story, about a  “giant” from the Philippines who moves to London to live with his sister.

Much younger children will read Willie Wins by Almira Astudillo Gilles, and Lakas and the Manilatown Fish by Anthony D. Robles.

“All of these books should spark meaningful conversation among the participants,” Mayor Van Dusen said in a statement.

“It is more important than ever to gain understanding of other cultures, countries and people who are different from us; it is through this understanding that we develop compassion for each other and build a stronger community,” he added.

During the news conference, the mayor touched on the topic of learning a second or third language besides English.

“I think people coming to the United States knowing Chinese or Japanese or any foreign language gives us an institutional advantage,” he said, adding that students should learn about the world “beyond our borders.”

Aside from the book readings, other cultural events and games as well as a Filipino pastry workshop are scheduled throughout the festivities.

“We are so diverse, yet we have so many similarities among all of us,” said Usha Kamaria, president of the Indian Community of Niles Township, which led the event last year.

“It is so much fun to talk to the people and share your culture and listen to them and learn about them,” Kamaria said.

“It looks like the world should look at Skokie right now,” said Skokie Park District commissioner Jerry Clarito, who is originally from the Philippines. He added the event was “an example of defining tolerance and understanding, which will promote peace and harmony.”

Touching on the recent shooting in Arizona that killed six people and injured at least 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Clarito said by celebrating diversity and cultural understanding people are reminded “that violence and hatred have no place in democracy.”

“Sometimes we look on differences rather than looking on similarities,” he added. (For Coming Together in Skokie poster please credit the Skokie Public Library)

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