Cultural Exchange Night sheds insight on tradition

The sky last night cast pink shadows on white tents in Hinds Plaza. International flags were draped above a multi-cultural crowd there to celebrate diversity, to celebrate Princeton and to celebrate each other. Cultural Exchange Night, organized by Princeton Human Services as part of Welcoming Week, inspired an evening of show and tell, dance and festivity.

Princeton residents stood or sat at their booths displaying various heritage artifacts and chatting to interested passerby. Countries represented ranged from South Africa to Italy, Mexico to Poland, Turkey and Denmark. When one entered the tent, a large map of the world was there for visitors to place a pin or pins on the place of their family’s origin.

“Your grandmother came from here, but your grandfather came from here. And your great-grandparents came from here,” some parents told their children, who stood awestruck in the conceptualization of their own histories.

“Try something sweet; it’s part of Polish tradition.” Agníeszka Majchizak said at her booth representing Poland. “We always try to celebrate Polish culture, dance, song. Many children may live here but their parents or grandparents come from Poland. It’s great to teach them how Polish and Americans live together. Here, there are many Polish names, Polish cities showing the culture.”

Nicola Teves and Gio Charles placed their pins on the Philippines and Haiti, respectively. Teves enjoys “Lechon,” a Filipino tradition where a whole pig is roasted for a special occasion.

Charles enjoys the Haitian Mardi Gras or Carnivale that goes on throughout town. One of the most memorable parts is how bands of musicians come together and perform in musical rivalry.

Valeria Trujillo, Veronica Monroy and Louis Gasper sat folding “flores” at a table electric in color with Mexican folklore, tarot and books about Frida Kahlo.

“Ya know, in Mexico people normally make these flowers for decoration and for parties around Halloween. It’s a Dios de los Muertos tradition,” Monroy said.

Local resident Leticia Fraga, a first generation Mexican-American, put together Cultural Exchange Night after her son, Ben, hosted International Night. She thought it was a wonderful way to share heritage as a community.

Demet, Jens and Marcus Olesen of Denmark moved to Princeton three years ago after living in Switzerland. Demet is originally from Turkey and stood with a Turkish booth that was merged with her husband’s Danish booth.

“Everybody always asks why Denmark is the happiest country in the world,” Marcus said, wearing a shirt that boasted just that. “The reason why is because the difference between rich and poor is very small. Even the CEO of the Danish Bank, the largest in Denmark, said ‘Do not lower funding for the poor – a bigger difference [in wealth] will only create animosity and even terrorism.’ I agree with this mindset. People need a decent living no matter what cards they’ve been dealt. People are not inherently lazy. Those who are capable have an obligation; it’s a cultural thing.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida