The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

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11th annual MENAA Summit fosters conversations surrounding cultural identity

2024 Summit poster, created by senior Joan Camaya.

Evanston Township High School hosted the 11th annual MENAA (Middle Eastern, North African and Asian) Summit on April 24, serving as a space for discussions about cultural heritage and ethnicity. The theme this year was “We are all leaves of one tree, we are all waves of one sea,” said by Vietnamese monastic and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh. The summit began with performances from Ronnie Malley and the Surabhi Ensemble, a blend of Indian, Arabic, African and Andalusian-influenced music, meant to represent the connections between cultures under the MENAA spectrum. 

“The MENAA Summit is a way to connect with people who share the same background as you. It’s easier to talk to someone who knows or shares the same experience as you,” said a freshman attendee.

After the concert, students participated in breakout sessions where they could chart out life maps, share personal experiences and feel a sense of belonging and community. There were several sessions designed for specific cultural identities.

“The MENAA community is a beautiful one because it encompasses such geographic, cultural and linguistic diversity. Despite this, there are many shared experiences and a lot of solidarity between the identities we represent. For me, the MENAA community is a way for students and staff to connect with each other and validate and share this spectrum of experiences,” said Kennan Daoudi, a French teacher and Summit participant.

After the affinity spaces, there were MENNA workshops focusing on various cultural traditions. Students could participate in henna or origami workshops, traditional cultural games or a Bhangra dance workshop with the Northwestern Bhangra Team. For lunch, there was food from Pinto Thai Kitchen, the Patel Brothers and Masiramon. 

“The summit is a way to celebrate and acknowledge identities that can so often be overlooked, tokenized, politicized and demonized in school and society’s ‘normal’ day-to-day. It’s a way for students to be in charge of their narratives and celebrate the parts of their MENAA identities that are important to them,” said Daoudi. “I think the summit also does a lot for students as they are on their journey of self-actualization and helps them to feel that who they are is not something that needs to be ‘left at the door’ or defined by others when they come into this building but rather is an asset to them and a source of pride.”

The final part of the summit was a fashion and cultural show performed and orchestrated by MENAA students. Multiple countries were represented by students and staff alike, such as India, Algeria, the Philippines, China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey. Following the presentation, all students could participate in a dance party where Middle Eastern, North African and Asian music was played.

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