When my wife and I walked into the large room we we're instantly greeted by flags of all countries hanging from the ceiling, smells of foods from around the world, and people dressed in the clothing of their cultures. But this wasn’t the UN headquarters or even a federal building- it was Cedar Wood Elementary School. This neighborhood school at the south-east corner of the Everett School District hosted a “Cultural Night” for the students, parents, faculty, and community. The idea was to provide a space for the school community to learn from the actual people who make up the community.This wasn’t kids who researched Nepal and presented their findings to their classmates. These were kids, parents and teachers from Nepal and the Philippines and Nigeria and Turkey and many more countries offering food and sharing their own experiences. Some students filled their “passports” with stamps collected from each country while others sat in the cafeteria and dined on Chinese pork buns, Indian curry, and Norwegian cookies.
But for me, what made this event so profound was not its scope or even its fantastic content- it was the timing of it. This event took place 48 hours after the election of a president whose primary campaign promise was limiting the amount of immigrants in the country. The rhetoric insisted that what makes America great is the nationalism that comes from exclusion of certain people. And yet inside a small gym of a local elementary school, the exact opposite seemed to be true. What makes this school great is an environment of acceptance and welcome of all people. What makes this neighborhood great are moments like the one I experienced as an Indian American boy and his mother shared a favorite dish with me. And what makes America greatis the real life connections that we make with our neighbors at events like these.