Winona Daily News - Campus Connections
December 26, 2021
Celebrating Diversity at Minnesota State College Southeast
Work study students Pa Nhia Xiong and Lisa Hang created a multi-cultural approach to the holidays this winter
From "Jingle Bells" to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" -- for the past month or so you couldn't help but feel the Christmas spirit in our communities.
But Christmas isn't the only winter holiday that is celebrated in America.
Under the leadership of Dr. Pao Vue, Director of Equity and Inclusion, this year Minnesota State College Southeast's campuses are decorated with Christmas trees and garlands, along with items symbolizing Hanukkah, Hmong New Year, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and the Lunar New Year.
Pa Nhia Xiong and Lisa Hang are work study students in the Office of Equity and Inclusion. They worked together to research and design large-format posters and social media graphics for the college that explore the meaning of these major winter holidays.
"With support from the Equity and Inclusion Committee, we collected information about the holidays celebrated by our students, faculty, and staff," said Pao Vue. "Lisa and Pa Nhia have done significant work in this area."
Pa Nhia is a first year Psychology Transfer Pathway student, with plans to complete an associate degree at MSC Southeast and then continue on for a 4-year degree at a college or university in the Twin Cities.
Lisa, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) Drafting Technology major, will graduate in Spring 2022 and hopes to move up to the Cities and begin a job search.
As the children of immigrant families, Christmas was not always part of their culture.
"My mom's side was more traditional, but my dad's side went to church. They came to the U.S. before we were born, so we always celebrated the holidays of the United States," said Lisa, adding, "It's just a way to get together as a family. As we grew up, we started understanding Christmas for what it means."
Pa Nhia said, "We don't celebrate Christmas, but we buy presents for each other anyway!"
Both students' families celebrate Hmong New Year, which fell on December 5 this year. Before COVID-19 they would usually go up to RiverCentre in Saint Paul for a gathering that attracts thousands of people to enjoy the traditional clothing, games, dances, music, and foods of the Hmong people.
"It's a great time to get together with whole community and connect with our roots," explained Lisa Hang. "We would play games like the ball toss. Basically, you line up side-by-side with one side boys, one side girls and throw a soft yarn ball back and forth. It's a way for single young people to get to know each other."
During Hmong New Year, many Hmong families observe a ritual to cleanse the house of the old spirits and bring in the new. "You thank your ancestors for the completion of the harvest and ask them to bless you with a healthy, happy new year," Pa Nhia said.
Appreciate other cultures -- and try new things
In researching winter holiday traditions, Pa Nhia and Lisa learned more about other cultures.
"I was already exposed to other holidays because I have a diverse group of friends, but I didn't know that much in detail. Especially Hanukkah, I knew they lit candles, but I didn't know why," Lisa said. "It broadened my perspective to learn about other holidays and cultures."
Most people assume that holidays have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. "I didn't know that Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966 - that came as a surprise," noted Pa.
For these students, and the entire Minnesota State College Southeast community, the expression "Happy Holidays" has been enriched this year by a deliberate effort to recognize a range of winter traditions.
"We welcome and affirm students, college employees, and community members from all backgrounds. The Office of Equity and Inclusion strives to educate and spread awareness during cultural heritage months, and we are doing the same for the winter holidays," said Pao Vue. "#MSCSoutheastCares isn't just a hashtag, it's a commitment. We care about and are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion."
"Celebrate the holiday that is important to your family and your culture," advised Lisa. "But you can appreciate other cultures as well, and try new things."