Hillel and the Latin American Student Union (LASU) joined together to bridge the cultural gap that exists between the students that make up Binghamton University.
A group of almost 40 students shared their names, backgrounds and something they cherish about their culture, ranging from foods to holidays.
Attendees readily swapped questions. Several students from Hillel had to double check that salami and platanos actually went in the same dish, while members from LASU grappled with the idea of a separate Jewish calendar.
The discussion developed a more serious tone when members began discussing social obstacles the groups have experienced in getting where they are today.
“Both of our cultures are spread out around the world, but we’re minorities here,” said Catherine Almonte, member of LASU and a junior majoring in political science. “And, just to talk a little political science, we both vote Democrat. That shows a shared sense of values.”
Arryana Olavarria, a sophomore majoring in English, added that these values might arise from prior oppression.
“People who have gone through struggles in the past can relate in a deep way,” Olavarria said.
Almost all the attendees agreed that identifying with both a native or ancestral culture as well as American culture can be confusing.
“It can be hard because when I’m here, and people ask me what I am, I say Dominican,” said Jessica De Jesus, secretary of LASU and a junior majoring in human development. “But if I say that while I’m in the Dominican Republic, they’ll say no you’re not, you’re American.”
Belle Yoeli, a junior triple-majoring in political science, Spanish and Judaic studies, and next year’s president of Hillel, agreed that sometimes these distinctions can get confusing.
“I think I identify as being Jewish. I mean I may say it about 20 times a day when it comes up,” Yoeli said. “For people who are ‘Jewish-ly’ involved, it becomes like a nationality.”
Nathaniel Jimenez, a member of LASU and a junior majoring in English, noted that even though the two cultures are different, members of both communities value preserving their background and traditions.
“There’s a lot of pride from both cultures,” Jimenez said. “We both know to how to celebrate. That’s how you keep your culture alive.”
Stephen Bedik, a junior majoring in accounting and executive vice president of Hillel, worked with De Jesus in organizing the event.
“This is a good first step for our organization,” Bedik said. “We want to see more of this happen, with more interactivity between such influential groups. We’re going to try to carry this momentum into next year.”