Dorothy Villarreal ’15 had never seen her name written in Chinese characters before Wednesday night.
Accented by neon lights and the pulse of ethnic music, the inaugural Diversitas event introduced students to a wide variety of food, art, and traditions from around the world outside of the Science Center on Wednesday.
The cultural celebration, organized by the Undergraduate Council and the Harvard Foundation, developed from a campaign proposal of current UC President Senan Ebrahim ’12.
More than 30 student cultural organizations hosted booths and gave performances at the event, which brought together everything from African Maasai jewelry to Scandinavian non-alcoholic wine to Indian samosas.
Students expressed enthusiasm about the free food and giveaways at the event and the opportunity to share aspects of their cultures.
“They had quite a variety of ethnic food. It was great,” Dylan S. Freedman ’15 said, standing near a table laden with churros, meat pies, and empanadas.
The hot food menu was suggested by the student groups and cooked up by Harvard University Dining Services.
According to Social Programming Task Force Chair Crystal D. Trejo ’13—a current UC presidential candidate who ran the event—the UC hired a lighting artist to illuminate the booths and stage.
Roy Wong, a Chinese student attending a conference hosted by the Harvard College Association for U.S.-China Relations, said, “The Chinese performances are genuine and realistic Chinese. This is very fun. Chinese schools don’t have parties like this, never.”
Many student groups offered food and art projects along with informational posters at their booths.
Christopher P. Olsen ’12, president of the Scandinavian Society, said that his group’s display was intended as a “winter wonderland celebration” to reflect his chilly region.
“We had Scandinavian glögg, which is a mulled wine, and fake snow,” Olsen said.
Harvard Dharma, a Hindu student group, painted henna tattoos on attendees’ hands. “We wanted to do something that a lot of people here haven’t done before,” Kriti S. Subramanyam ’15 said.
Not all the booths were ethnic in their focus. At the Queer Students and Allies table, members handed out rainbow pins and taught students to make origami cranes from rainbow-colored paper.
Some said they felt the event was marred by the Occupy Harvard protest occurring simultaneously, which marched through the Diversitas festivities and led police to severely restrict access to Harvard Yard.
“It was insensitive to the cultural organizations who are part of this event,” said Carolina R. Beltran ’13.
“It was rude,” Villarreal agreed.
But Loc V. Truong, assistant director of the Harvard Foundation, was not bothered.
“The Occupy movement didn’t interrupt the event at all. It’s freedom of speech,” he said. “Everyone had a great time here, and that’s what’s most important.”
—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at email@example.com.