The DC Nepali School holds classes for couple hours on weekends.
The big day had finally arrived. The parking lot of the DC Nepali School in Vienna Virginia filled up as cars pulled into the compound. The students walked with pizzazz escorted by their parents into the auditorium. Some students were already in their Pahari, Tamang and Newari costumes ready for the year-end cultural performance. Sahara, a seven year old ran up to her mother in excitement and asked in broken Nepali, “Maile kun song gaunchu?”
In her Level II class at the school she was still learning how to pronounce words. The suburban neighborhood with typical American rambler homes along the main street provided no hint of ethnic programs signifying cultural phenomena occurring right in its backyard. The DC Nepali Schoolin Washington Metro area, catering to the Nepali Diaspora population of twenty five thousand Nepali immigrants, is a volunteer run organization that holds classes for couple hours on weekends. Now three years later and after six successful semesters, the school attendance had increased to 45 students, starting from four year olds to adults, fifteen core volunteers, and four class sections focusing on basic reading, writing, communication and verbal skills.
The volunteers were required to stretch beyond their comfort zone, assume a new role as
teachers, trainers, and coordinators and make a commitment to create a haven for the youth to learn their heritage. They learned to overcome personal anxieties treading on new territory of teaching Nepali grammar, vocabulary and diction. Managing individual time constraints to fulfill the demands of volunteer hours meant forgoing certain weekend respite whether it be going to the movie theatres, visiting friends, preparing Nepali cuisine for their family for the entire week or watching the Super Bowl game on TV. This was the turning point where the volunteers reshuffled their priorities and values to embrace an alien concept to make a paradigm shift. They learned that the prime challenge was to create a curriculum appropriate and exciting for an American born Nepalese youth in order to capture their enthusiasm and interest. Apart from ensuring a facility for language, the school’s objective was also to help students understand cultural values and find a balance between the eastern and western cultures.
They aimed at helping youth cultivate roots and make them multifaceted. However this feat was weighed against several conflicting realities of balancing a fast paced life and demands of work and home and lack of extended family support. For the volunteers, communicating this effort and selling the idea was equally exigent. Considering all the odds, it was then nothing
short of a miracle to see the school flourish and grow in a short time span. Apart from teaching language skills the school had a vision to provide a forum for the Nepali American youth to share the challenges they faced of growing up in dual cultures. Parents were not always aware that their children growing up in a new culture would not absorb their ethnic values naturally. Rather it took partnership, proficiency and special effort to inculcate the right set of values in the children.
The year- end school program provided one such platform for communicating these conflicting values and a means to comprehend this complexity. The skit “Asian Parenting” aimed at addressing subtleties of cultural orientation, its ambiguities and contradictions through a discourse between a Nepali father and his Americanized teenage son. The typical Asian father was over zealous about his son’s school grades and insisted on him pulling his B+ to an A in the finals. The teenage son retorted back, “Dad do you realize how ridiculous you sound and that too on a Friday evening when kids are supposed to hang out? Any American parent would
do hand stands to see a B+ on a report card and all you can do is lecture me about studying
more?” At that point all the youth in the audience nodded in complete approval and flashed a cathartic grin at their own parents.
One of the biggest lessons that Nepalese youth have learned to accept is Asian parents can be banal about education and can display a fixation for A’s in all subjects and nothing less. While imparting weighty messages, the skit provided a good dose of humor and relief through cross cultural innuendo interspersed with thick Americanized accents from the young performers. The message from the skit provided a sense of how the dichotomy between cultural upbringings may make it hard for parents to understand children and viceversa. Parents are most effective in preserving their children’s allegiance to their own values if they negotiate compromises, which acknowledge and respect both cultures. We have to reconcile to the fact that children will acquire some degree of “mainstream” U.S. culture that is not necessarily evil since this skill is essential for them to succeed. The school’s philosophy incorporated these dual values to mitigate the conflicts already prevalent in a multicultural set up.
The applause from the audience after the performance could not drown the popular slogan that the younger students had concocted as they shouted in unison, ‘Nepali School is cool’.
(Neeva is the chairperson of DC Nepali school)
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