We changed things up this Friday and met at School Without Walls (or Walls for short), where we’ll often meet from now on, instead of going to the American Councils office. I was excited as even though I knew no students would be there, it is my school and I felt proud and excited to go back and show my new Japanese friends. “Why such a strange name?” I was asked. “You mean you don’t have a gym or a field at school!?”
Once settled in, a panel of experts came and talked to us about issues in U.S.-Japan relations. Three organizations were present as well as a student our age that had traveled to Japan in the past. Not only was the panel interesting and informative, but it also made me excited to go to Japan from what I was hearing about their experiences there.
After the panel discussion and a quick lunch at school we all walked to the White House. I’ve been past the White House many times, often moving on quickly in order to avoid the large crowds of tourists, but today I became one as we all took a group photo in front of the White House. The Japanese students were struck by how small the White House was, as they had already had a mental image of a large building symbolic of the United States.
A short metro ride later and we were in a very different part of the city. No longer were we surrounded by tourists and important government buildings. Now we walked past people just hanging out on the street, a Hispanic lady selling drinks, and overall just a whole lot more diversity. We were in Columbia Heights, going to the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). Yet again I was very excited as I wanted the Japanese students to experience and learn about Latin American culture and its presence in the United States. In the past week they had seen neighborhoods that were predominantly African American and compared these to those that were not, and they had heard bits and pieces about the Latino population in the U.S., but they hadn’t really had a chance to see it. Now we were in the colorfully painted building, comparing Japanese culture not only to American culture, but also to Latin American culture in the U.S. Before long a circle was made and participants in LAYC performed different Latin American dances and even the director of the program was coaxed in to dance a little.
Being Latin American myself I was proud to see the Japanese students having such a good time dancing Latino dances and comparing cultures. A theme that we’ve discovered during our time together is the diversity found in D.C., and the Latin American community is a fundamental aspect of this. Today, I was glad that they were finally able to experience another group of people that make up the United States and compose its mixture of cultures and colors.
School Without Walls