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Culture Shock Festival at Tri-C

On Thursday, April 9th, we tabled at the annual "Culture Shock" festival at Tri-C in Parma. We tabled there in 2014 too and we were very grateful to Dr. Susan Lohwater, the principal organizer, for inviting us back on behalf of Margaret W. Wong and Associates. On this day, Dr. Lohwater couldn't say how many people actually attended this event but she told us that the festival consisted of 55 tables representing the people and cultures of such countries as China, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, South Korea, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia. Different organizations also tabled there like the Tzu-Chi Foundation, Women in Transition, the Student Peace Alliance, Global Cleveland, the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society, Raqs for Joy (the belly dance organization), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Our table was located right next to that of our good friend, Mr. Johnny Wu who was there promoting the upcoming Cleveland Asian Festival in May and One World Day in August.

Among the people who stopped by our table to say hello or to obtain information were:

***Our friend Patty who used to work at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs and now works for the Economic and Community Development Institute which makes immigrant business loans.

***A woman who immigrated to the United States from Uzbekistan and now has a green card. She wanted to explore the possibility of her family immigrating here too.

***A young man who may know people who would like to immigrate to the United States from the Ukraine.

***A woman who immigrated to the United States from Brazil and is now a permanent resident. She wanted to find out if she can obtain dual citizenship.

***A young student from Albania who may wish to remain here in the United States.

***Dr. Anatoli Evseev who immigrated to the United States from Russia and has been teaching ESL here from 25 years and knows our Mr. Leo Shipcka.

Later in the day Mr. Kris Koch, a DJ that we often see at international events, presided over a multicultural fashion show, Latin American dancing, a bongo drums concert, and Dabke which is an Arabic form of folk dancing.

Most importantly there was a presentation by Ms. Shamina Merchant about common misunderstandings about Islam. We particularly wanted to attend this one because we had met Ms. Merchant at the City Club a few weeks back when she provided the commentary for the high school debate competition. Ms. Merchant is a first generation American (her parents immigrated to the United States from India) as well as a senior at Brecksville/Broadview Heights High School. Ms. Merchant started by praising the diversity of Tri-C and thanked Dr. Lohwater for giving her the opportunity to speak. She went onto say that the religion of Islam, itself, must be separated from the relatively few individuals who are distorting its message and using it as a justification for violence. She went on to talk about how the teachings of Islam have been in favor of equality for women and how the veil is a symbol of "respect not submission." As she concluded, she said that obtaining knowledge is viewed as a form of worship and the pursuit of knowledge is a key part of the lives of most Muslims. Above all, an underlying component of Islam is "humanity" which must always prevail.

Ms. Merchant was introduced by Prof. John Kerezy who said that, unfortunatelty, some people who were invited there on this day were afraid to attend because they didn't want to do anything that might cause them to be associated with Islam. We really liked it when Prof. Kerezy said that it was time for fear to be replaced with knowledge and we replaced building with bricks with the building of bridges to our different communities.

For dinner on Thursday, we attended a "Dabke Party" at Baldwin-Wallace College that was organized and hosted by the Muslim Student Association which worked very hard to put on this event for about 50 people, mostly students.

We had a good dinner of hummus, salad and pita bread that came from the Tarboosh Eatery in Parma. During dinner we were entertained by Ms. Maria Ma-Ajmala, an accomplished belly dance artist from the Canton/Akron area.

We finally looked up "Dabke" on Wikipedia and found out that it is the national dance of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. It is a form of circle dance combined with line dance and is performed "at weddings and joyous occasions." After Ms. Ma-Ajmala was done, Ms. Dina Ali, a professional DJ, played some appropriate music and we all got up and did some "Dabke" and found it to be quite energetic.

We had met the president of the Muslim Student Association, Ms. Amane Ali, a couple of weeks ago at International Night at Baldwin-Wallace. At this event we met a teacher of French in the Parma Schools named Kenny who used to teach ESL. Kenny was very disappointed when we told him that "Culture Shock" was today because he really wanted to go and it had slipped his mind. When we told him that we worked with Margaret W. Wong and Associates he was very impressed because he was aware of Ms. Wong's wonderful reputation. He was only sorry that he was not an immigrant, himself, so he could not use her. Of course, he reasoned that he could always immigrate to some other country and then attempt to come back...

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