Students get glimpse of Asian life, culture

April 19, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Mount Hebron High School students got a glimpse of Asian culture and a taste of the continent's geography and diversity in two assemblies yesterday, both highlighting traditional costumes and ways of life.

The events depicted various aspects of Asian life, including traditional costumes, the martial arts and Korean fan and drum dances.

Students also got a first-hand perspective on Asian and Asian-American life from fellow students who told their stories to the assembled group.

"I learned more about Asia than I did before," said Vesime Omer, a 17-year-old junior, noting that, prior to the program, she hadn't known that Russia was a part of Asia. "It gave lots of information for students of any age. It's really important to know more about the cultures in the world."

The assembly was the brainchild of teacher Sindy Parrott, who coordinates Mount Hebron's independent research class, and 18-year-old senior Anh Duong, a Vietnamese immigrant who came to the United States in 1990.

Anh was looking for a project to do for Dr. Parrott's class and wanted to share with her fellow students that Asia is a vast region with different cultures, backgrounds and traditions.

"I share with many other students and teachers at our school a sense that our curriculum does not teach most students very much about Asia, even though our increasingly global culture makes Asia a very important area to know a lot about," Anh told the audience.

She noted later, in an interview, that only one English teacher at the school included Asian-oriented literature in the curriculum. That was Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club," which last year was made into a motion picture.

"We wanted to show others about Asian culture and tradition," she said. "In the school curriculum, we don't see any Asian curriculum anywhere."

Among those who addressed the assembly was 17-year-old senior Julie Choi, who discussed her experience growing up in the United States as a Korean-American.

Significant challenges

She said that many Korean parents bring their children to America to give them better education, but often face significant challenges in re-establishing their own careers.

TC For example, many of those parents were professionals in Korea. But language barriers and recertification problems force many to open up shops and work long hours when they come to America, she said.

Julie's own parents, for example, worked 20-hour days when she was younger.

"It is ironic that parents may work so hard to get opportunities for their children that they may lose touch with them, or that as Korean kids become increasingly Americanized, they may lose touch with their parents' more traditional Korean values," she said.

Shawn Hong, an Asian-American senior, narrated a slide show ** with pictures from Asia, including Laotian women cooking food outdoors, Hong Kong vendors selling hats to tourists and a Japanese gardener pruning and wiring branches of a bonsai tree.

He also talked about Asian family life.

"The basic unit of social organization in many Asian countries is the family," said Shawn, 17. "Even today, in China, the laws hold families responsible for the welfare of their relatives. A family loses face if its older members need welfare payments or if its young people get into trouble."

Ayumi Ono, an exchange student from Saga, Japan, talked about the differences between Japanese culture and American culture.

She recalled how shocked she was when she saw that "so many kids were hugging and kissing in the hallways" at Mount Hebron.

"Most Japanese people are very shy, so not many kids have girlfriends and boyfriends," she said. "If we do have one, we never kissed or hugged in the hallway. If you did, the teachers and the students are very shocked and you get in trouble."

Fashion show

Other parts of the program focused on more concrete aspects of Asian culture and heritage.

The fashion show had students from a number of ethnic backgrounds, not all of them Asian, displaying costumes of countries from throughout Asia.

Deepa Kumar, a 16-year-old senior whose family comes from the eastern part of India, wore a blue "salwar," a long blouse, and a matching "kameez," pants drawn at the ankles. She would wear such an east Indian outfit, embroidered with pearls and handmade by a dressmaker, at weddings and parties.

Earl Edwards, 17, an African-American senior, sported a blue Vietnamese "ao dai" made of silk, once worn as an everyday outfit by well-off men. The "ao dai" was fastened at the shoulders by buttons, had a slit up to the waist for easy movement and was worn with pants.

"It was comfortable," he said of the outfit, now only worn during special ceremonial events. "It was nice and silky."

Martial arts

In a separate demonstration, biology teacher Ron Klinger, who holds a fifth-degree black belt, showed the differences among the Asian martial arts, such as akido, karate and ju jitsu.

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