MIHS Cultural Fair will celebrate diversity

Event is set for March 16 in the school commons.

Friendship, food and entertainment will flow freely during a celebration of diversity at Mercer Island High School (MIHS) on the evening of March 16.

The school’s Cultural Fair will enliven the Islander commons from 6-8 p.m. for the second consecutive year and committee members and MIHS seniors Karen Zhang and Claire Ryu are thrilled to bring the crucial event back to the community.

It will be a special time for various cultures to step into the spotlight and for attendees to present their experiences and learn about what’s occurring in others’ lives and their family’s histories.

On tap at the fair will be participants representing Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Latin America, South Asia and more. Members of the school’s Black Student Union (BSU), Latinx Club and South Asian Student Association (SASA) will be on hand to share their stories. MIHS PETRI (Philanthropy, Education, Teaching, Research, Involvement) club members will also be in attendance to sell baskets made by Kenyans to fund scholarships and accept donations to help end Period Poverty. At press time, SASA members were scheduled to perform an Indian dance like last year, and South Korean noodle dishes and food from SASA were on the menu.

“It’s really cool just to look at other people’s perspectives, and there’s history and you can learn a lot about it. I think the most important takeaway is exposing yourself to different cultures and having that experience of looking at things that aren’t strictly your own,” said Zhang, whose family is from China.

Ryu, who represents South Korea, said it’s important to bring the school community together and explore each other’s cultural backgrounds.

She wants to guide others in connecting “with my own experiences, because I think (what’s) really integral to creating a community is to understand and share experiences with other people. I think Cultural Fair is just kind of a vehicle for me to share things I’m proud of and learn about things other people are proud of.”

Ryu was head of the fair committee last year and she and Zhang are leading the charge this time out. About 100 people attended last April’s inaugural fair, which garnered a positive reaction and featured much of the same elements on this year’s docket along with Irish dancers, South American singers and more. Booths, posters and presentations will abound once again at the fair.

Zhang was drawn to the fair through her leadership duties and recalls absorbing diversity at big elementary school cultural fairs and in the classroom.

“In elementary school, it’s a requirement to create a poster about your country and then they showcase it in their class and also in another event. I thought that was really cool and I was excited to bring that to the high school,” she said.

As a youngster, Ryu’s family moved a couple of times and she resided in Tennessee right before moving to Washington.

She said that in Tennessee, “It’s predominantly white, but my older siblings’ school had a cultural fair and I really loved it. I wanted to bring something like that here because it’s obviously really diverse in Mercer Island, even compared to other places in Washington. I just really wanted to highlight that because I just thought it was a really fun event that let me learn about other cultures.”

Ryu thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the information presented at the different booths last year, including flipping through images of Vietnam in one photo book.

“I think for everyone who was there, they felt pretty happy and I think that just kind of boosted the vibe,” she said. “We do hope that this will continue after we graduate. I think even just doing it for two years, I hope it inspires somebody else to maybe throw one in the future.”