By Shikha Vyas
An International Day that is celebrated every year at The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) has indeed become a great success. On Thursday, June 20, guests were handed a passport when entering the ILC building at 442 Main St. with a list of 22 countries from across the globe. ILC students were set up in classrooms throughout the building representing their countries and their culture with food, music, clothing, and displays.
“Over the year since we have opened the school, 118 different countries and over 10,000 students have studied here. That means helping 10,000 families,” said Diane Portnoy, Founder and CEO of The ILC. “Every student is very special and this is an opportunity where the students get a chance to show their cultural diversity.”
Portnoy enthusiastically explained that on International Day everyone enjoys eating food, listening to music and seeing different kinds of artwork, literature and traditional clothing. Moreover, this is the best way to learn about the culture of other countries, finding out about differences but also all the things we have in common. “No matter what religion, skin color, music, language, underneath we all are similar,” said Portnoy.
In addition to learning English, ILC students learn life skills like how to talk to their teacher or doctor, how to take public transportation, how to do money transactions at the bank, how to apply for a job, and how to act in the job interview. “These are very important skills that will be necessary for them to be successful in this country,” said Portnoy.
Students not only learn about American culture but, because each class has students from at least 8-10 different countries, they are also learning about each other’s cultures. The ILC is a safe place for students to share their stories with each other. Portnoy also mentioned that morning and afternoon classes get a chance to celebrate International Day on alternate years. This year there were 22 countries represented, among them students from El Salvador, Pakistan and Brazil, each of whom took part in an interview for this story.
“I’m delighted to celebrate my first International day at The ILC,” said Ana, an ILC student from El Salvador. Ana is dressed in a blue and white dress, the colors of the flag from El Salvador, and other students at the table are dressed in T-shirts of the national soccer team. This section of the room is beautifully decorated with posters of El Salvador’s National Monument, a map with 14 cities, and pictures of different kinds of food, clothes and famous buildings. A painted log with mesmerizing detail of a parrot and leaves adds aesthetic value to the entire decor.
“Pupusa and bachata are the two special dishes of El Salvador,” said Ana. “Have a taste!” She also mentioned that the country celebrates an International Day on September 15 every year. Ana expressed her enthusiasm for learning at The ILC. “I love coming to the ILC because, before, I couldn’t write English. Now I learn more and speak more.”
Zulekha, a student from Pakistan, said that International Day is a special day when she gets a chance to share her culture and come to know about others’ culture under one roof. Zulekha is wearing a beautiful long robe and head covering. “Wearing an embroidered chadar is a tradition of Pakistan,” she said. She also said that jewelry and bangles are accessories that all women and girls like to wear in her country. Posters of famous monuments, clothes, the country’s flag and an array of food arranged on the table give the essence of Pakistan culture. Zulekha’s table boasts sweet rice pudding (kheer) and spicy meat samosas that she made herself. “I like seeing all the other countries here. It helps me to learn.”
“I feel proud to share my culture with others,” said Luiza, the daughter of Juliana, an ILC student from Brazil. Posters provide information about Brazilian culture, food and clothes. “We are very famous for our barbecue,” she said. The table offered barbecued meat, polenta (corn pudding) with beef, and rice pudding. “Shimahole is the most common and famous drink of Brazil. It’s bitter in taste but very refreshing.”
As we stood at her table, we watched dancers in the center of the room. The dancing style of Brazil is very rhythmic and energetic. Students from Morocco, China and Albania were all joining in, learning the dance steps together.
But it was the Haitian dancers that really brought the crowd together at the end of the event. The lively music, percussion, and the invitation of the Haitian dancers brought everyone to their feet, including the mayor of Malden, Gary Christenson. Traditional Haitian dance involves fast movement of one’s shoulders, hips and legs, and those that didn’t know the steps just improvised. In addition, food and decorations gave the essence of being there in Haiti for a moment.
Shikha Vyas is a new contributing journalist to MATV’s Neighborhood View. She is also a volunteer teacher at The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.
All photos in slideshow (below) by Elena Martinez. Video (below) recorded by Ron Cox and edited by Jenna Brown.