Norwalk nonprofit brings together students in Connecticut and Nepal
Christmas celebrations in Nigeria last several weeks.
Beginning the days before Dec. 25 and continuing through the early part of January, stores and schools are closed as people return to their home villages to see family and celebrate the holiday in the country that is nearly half Christian.
So it was surprising for Teagan Spitzel’s mother to witness the dialed-down American version of Christmas festivities when, at 21, she moved from Nigeria to the United States.
“She said when she got here, she didn’t understand most of the holidays,” Spitzel, a 12th-grader from Bridgeport who attends the Regional Center for the Arts in Trumbull, part time.
Halloween and the Fourth of July were also perplexing for Spitzel’s mother, as were American weddings. In Nigeria, it’s customary to have two marriage ceremonies, one for family, friends and coworkers, and another, more intimate, service for only immediate family members.
“The students have gone to relatives to ask them stories about their upbringing, their life when they were kids, how it’s changed, and then tried to focus on rituals or traditions that exist in the family or within the culture and to get stories about them,” DeQuattro said.
“The grant is for heritage preservation. They were trying to find organizations from the U.S. and overseas to preserve tangible or intangible heritage. Tangible heritage could be buildings or architecture. Intangible heritage could be culture, customs, food, clothing,” said Alan Steckler, founder of Creative Connections.
Creative Connections was one of five American organizations to receive the grant. Students in both countries will find ways to artistically represent their histories. Those histories will then be shared in class, via video conference between Trumbull and Nepal, at four schools in each locale and, ultimately, in person, when three Connecticut students travel to Nepal in February 2018. A group of Nepalese students will, in turn, travel to Connecticut in April 2018.
“We love when young people learn about their own culture, feel empowered by it, and want to share it,” Steckler said.
Each student in DeQuattro’s class will use their particular expertise in presenting their oral histories.
“When we go to dramatize, they’re going to use their own discipline,” DeQuattro said.
Spitzel is in the school’s music program, and will be performing a song celebrating family, which she said is a major part of her mother’s Nigerian culture.
Fernanda Schuina, a junior from Bridgeport, also decided to interview her mother about her home country, Brazil, where much of her extended family still lives.
Schuina said she spoke to her mother about Carnival, the festival that precedes lent, in her native Rio de Janeiro, her schooling and her childhood friends.
“I’m a film student, so I was thinking about making a collage kind of movie that involves a lot of my culture, a lot of photos and home videos from my mom when she was younger in Brazil,” Schuina said.
Schuina and Spitzel both said they’ve enjoyed learning more about their own heritage and the family histories of their classmates. Both are looking forward to connecting with the Nepalese students and learning more about their customs.
“We’re trying to figure out why these traditions are important. We’re starting to crack the surface,” DeQuattro said. “What I’ve noticed so far is when the kids are presenting the oral histories, they really light up. You can tell that they’re really energized by hearing about the lives of their parents and grandparents.”
First published on lmtonline.com on 2 October 2018
Published on Lokantar on 3 October 2018