Holi Festival: Cultural Appreciation at its Finest

The clock struck 7:00pm the first puff of powder flew into the air. Within seconds, the Underclassman Quad became a sea of bright neon colors. Bright blues, pinks, and yellows stained the clothes with vibrant, accidental tie-dye designs. Smiling faces covered in powder from head to toe laughed and screamed. Instant enemies could be spotted trying to chase each other while aiming powder in playful competition. Faculty children grabbed cups of powder and ran to their parents to share their new fun findings. As the sun began to set, the wind began to chill, and the powder began to settle in the grass, students grabbed some samosas, drank mango lassi, and gathered by the open fire.  

This was the Holi Festival.

The Holi Festival, “The Festival of Colors,” welcomes the beginning of spring in March. Along with the festival, South Asians engage in week-long preparation and celebration. Although it has religious origins in Hinduism, this holiday is widely accepted by people of diverse religiosity in South Asia. The date of the festival changes each year according to the lunar calendar. This year,  the Holi Festival came to the Island for the first time on March 26th. Approximately 50 students and faculty attended. Organized and run by the South Asian Society, Co-Presidents Ifteda Ahmed-Syed ’17 and Mahek Pannu ’18, along with Vice Presidents Rishi Basu ’19, and Samir Agadi ’16, plan on executing the festival again next year, for they deemed this year to be a definite success!

My personal experience with the Holi Festival guided me towards a better understanding and appreciation of South Asian culture. I eagerly tossed pink in the air and let the particle drift down onto my skin. In this moment, I realized one does not need to identify with a culture to appreciate the traditions, lifestyles, and ideals of the people. My involvement in the South Asian Society has granted me the opportunity to eat amazing traditional foods, to explore the important figures of different religions, and to learn numerous South Asian dance styles, such as Kathak, Bollywood, and Bollyhop (my personal favorite!) Before coming to Loomis, I attended a school full of students who held similar ethnic backgrounds. However, the Island is just as vibrant as Holi itself ‒ the cultural diversity at Loomis grants students the opportunity to dive into the world of another culture. My freshman year, the mere fact that I had a friend from Japan blew me away! Cultural curiosity can always be satiated with a simple conversation, a simple question, a simple choice to express genuine interest in another culture unlike your own.  

When discussing cultural appreciation, one must also ponder a troubling concept: cultural appropriation. The term itself bears many different interpretations and outlooks. Despite the lack of consensus on the phrase’s exact definition, cultural appropriation always involves an important element of a culture being “borrowed” and used by another culture without direct recognition of the element’s authentic cultural significance. Understanding the silver lining between these concepts is essential to successfully and respectfully appreciating new cultures. Ifteda Ahmed-Syed ’17, one of the Presidents of SAS, expressed the importance of marking this distinction; “cultural appropriation is a sign of disrespect- conscious or subconscious- while cultural appreciation is an opportunity to share, embrace, and enjoy the dynamics of a very nuanced culture,” reflected Ifteda. Examples of cultural appropriation sneak onto our newsfeeds and media sources in covert ways. From hairstyles to clothing styles, cultural appropriation completely disregards the original ownership and belittles important cultures to mere trends. Instead of unjustly casting cultures to the side, one can take the extra step to research the truth behind the ‘trend,’ and recognize that ‘trend’ as an actual tradition. Cultural appreciation is one click away!