America is often called the Great Melting Pot, and for good reason! We are surrounded by an array of diverse cultures, and this is what makes America so great. The best part about living in such a diverse nation is that you don’t need to travel the world to experience cross-culturalism, there are plenty of opportunities right here in Washington State! Why is cross-culturalism important? It is an enriching expe­rience and it opens the door to compassion, communication, and understanding. According to the United Church of Canada, cross-cultur­alism is where multiple cultures cross boundar­ies and interact with one another. This is in direct opposition to the more familiar term “multiculturalism” which is defined as multiple cultures dwelling side-by-side in the same com­munity. I love cross-culturalism because it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about other cultures, how they celebrate life, and who they are as a people.

We have a large family, and about 25 years ago, a woman in our church approached us about taking in two Japanese exchange students. We decided to go to the information meeting and next thing you know, we were greeting our students at the airport. They stayed with us for two weeks. During the day, they went to visit colleges and see some of the local sights. In the evenings and on a few other special occasions, we spent the entire day together. It was so much fun! We flipped madly through our dictionaries as we struggled to communicate with each other. We exchanged gifts and spent many hours playing games together and watching movies. We enjoyed the experience so much to where we decided to accept foreign exchange students annually for about 15 years. During that time, my oldest daughter studied Japanese on her own, and it wasn’t long until she was invited to go to Japan herself. Each homestay was special and we learned so much (my egg rolls are now famous).

Throughout the years, we’ve immersed our­selves into multiple cross-cultural opportunities. We have danced with the Yakima Indians, had dinner in a friend’s home where we sat on mats and ate Middle Eastern food, we have attended both Mai Fest and Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, Washington and we have attended the Cambo­dian New Year celebration.

Of all the cross-cultural experiences I’ve had, Cambodian New Year sticks out the most for a couple of reasons. For one, we have attended Cambodian New Year several times throughout the years. What can you expect to see at Cam­bodian New Year? Beautiful dancers wearing amazing ornate costumes, a beautiful Buddhist Temple, and colorful, elaborate decorations. You will see offerings (such as fruit) that are made to Buddha both inside and outside the temple. There is a fenced off area and when you enter, you light a stick of incense and place it with the others for a lucky new year. The aroma in the air from all the foods will have your mouth watering before you even get to order. Chefs cook food out in the open where everyone can see it. Vendors have tables full of imported Cam­bodian goods that you can buy and take home to remember your experience. People gather everywhere to meet with family and friends. And inside the Temple, you can see the monks. Sometimes they pray and chant to the large statue of Buddha surrounded by offerings for a happy New Year.

The annual Cambodian New Year celebration is coming to Tacoma in April. The celebration usually goes for about three weeks centering around the 13, 14, and 15 of the month. It is held at 1717 Fawcett Street, Tacoma, WA 98402. It runs during the week and on the weekends.

PHOTO BY MOLLY REETZ
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