The Catholic University of America

Nov. 20, 2015

Students Celebrate Culture at Thanksgiving Potluck

  Members of FOCUS (Filipino Organization of Catholic University Students) serve barbecue chicken during the Thanksgiving Cultural Potluck Dinner Nov. 19.

Junior Siuma Montero was excited to participate in Catholic University’s Thanksgiving Cultural Potluck Dinner the evening of Nov. 19, even though she had an hours-long engineering class later that night. Representing her home country of Bolivia, where she lived until she was 15, Montero brought several trays of homemade empanadas to share.

“Empanadas are found in many places in Latin America, but the way we made it is more Bolivian,” she said. “Instead of beans, my mom makes the dough with tea to make it more aromatic, with a mix of more salty and sweet flavors. Raisins are in there as well as olives, beef, and chicken.”

Montero was one of many students to bring a dish that reflected her culture for the potluck dinner, which took place in the Great Room of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. The potluck was organized as a collaboration between the Office of Campus Activities and the Center for Global Education. Approximately 350 students attended.

“It’s important to share the cultures we have (at CUA) because we are the same in the eyes of God, but we also are different,” said Montero, who serves as the spiritual chair for the Student Organization for Latinos (SOL).

“It ties in with Thanksgiving. From what I learned in high school, pilgrims came and the Native Americans gave food and the pilgrims shared food from Europe. Sharing the food of different cultures, this is the same thing.”

CUA Cultural Thanksgiving Potluck from CUA Video on Vimeo.

According to Annalisa Dias-Mandoly, program coordinator for the campus activities office, the dinner began several years ago as a way of engaging international students in a cultural exchange. Each participating organization was given a small budget to purchase or prepare a dish representing their culture. The campus activities office provided traditional American food — turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes — and live music from folk singer Mark Rust.

“Every year it’s grown and grown and we’ve gotten better at the logistics,” Dias-Mandoly said.

Among the participating groups this year was the Chinese Club, the French Club, FOCUS (the Filipino Organization of Catholic University Students), the Black Student Alliance (BSA), and international students from China and Vietnam.

Junior Bailey Piazza, an international politics major and Asian studies minor, is president of the University’s Chinese Club, which contributed spring rolls for the dinner. She said the dinner was a nice way for students to reflect on their own cultures and the cultures of those around them.

“I definitely think food is an integral part of any culture,” said Piazza. “Not only does it say a lot about the tastes and preferences of the area, but it also has a lot of traditions that go with it. For spring rolls, especially, it’s the process of chopping the vegetables by hand, rolling, and steaming. There’s a lot of intricate detail that goes into it, which reflects the Chinese culture and how it is very detail oriented.”


Junior Carlos Aguado, a neuropsychology major with a minor in Spanish, participated in the dinner as a member of SOL, though he is also involved with BSA and FOCUS.

“I’m Hispanic, but I love being able to explore other cultures because everyone has something to offer,” Aguado said. “In America, we’re very diverse, but not a lot of other people like to branch out of their cultures. Here, you get a chance to do that. I know that I’ve gotten more in touch with my roots since joining these clubs and being around other people who are doing the same.”

April Yu, a first-year graduate student from China, also participated in the potluck dinner by bringing a tray of mooncakes, a traditional Chinese pastry that is usually served during a mid-autumn festival celebrating family reunions.

“I know Thanksgiving is about family reunions too, so that’s why I chose this pastry for today,” Yu said.

Having only lived in the United States for a few months, Yu said she was proud to share a bit of her home culture with other students. “I think it’s definitely important for people to get to know each other better through food,” she said.

Senior Terrence Britt, a vocal performance major, served as the student coordinator for this year’s event. He also participated in the potluck as a member of BSA, which contributed fried chicken and cornbread for the dinner.

“Everyone thinks that Thanksgiving is always turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, but many people don’t eat that way. They want to eat the way they eat in their countries,” Britt said. “This helps students get a better cultural understanding of what people eat at their kitchen tables on Thanksgiving Day. It will make people more aware and maybe more culturally sensitive.”




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