Glory Reitz – Staff Writer
When Judith Flier took her guitar onstage at the Students Without Borders club’s annual Cultural Fair, she was nervous, the capo was placed wrong, and her music sheets were in the wrong order. When she said she would sing of the Netherlands, the crowd was quiet. This is Sioux Center, isn’t everyone already steeped in Dutch culture?
But Flier doesn’t just have Dutch ancestry and blonde hair, she is an exchange student from the Netherlands. She leapt into the Cultural Fair with the goal of sharing Dutch culture straight from home.
The morning of the fair, Feb. 19, Flier was in the Grille area, setting up her booth with Dutch pancakes, boterkoek, and stroopwafels, and a Sjoelen (Dutch shuffleboard) game beside her.
About ten international students swarmed around the Grille that morning, hanging flags and putting up display tables. That evening, they were back, and ten minutes after five, around 200 people from Dordt, Northwestern College, and the surrounding community filled the area.
From five until six, students running the booths greeted endless streams of visitors. They served food from their home countries, ranging from a bowl of rice, pork, and chicken at the Nicaragua booth, to bubble tea from China and South Korean Lattes, to Kenyan samosas.
Enock Rop, a freshman from Kenya, said he and his friends started preparing the samosas at nine o’clock the night before the fair. They finished at two in the morning, with 150 samosas.
Before him, Rop said Dordt had one Kenyan student who ran the booth for years. He graduated last year, so the task fell to Rop and two others from Kenya. They got a late start setting up, and were disappointed at their bland spread: two trifolds and a Kenyan flag.
But the day before the fair, a friend’s flight from Florida landed: “Auntie Deb,” as the Kenyan students call her, had lived in Kenya for 25 years and collected a houseful of “artifacts.” She packed the trunk of her car with enough to cover two tables and a mannequin. When… …Rop saw the full display, he felt it did his country justice.
“I’m still like, looking at the pictures,” he said the next day. “I’m like, this is amazing. And people back at home, they’re really happy about it. Like, ‘Oh, you’re really representing.’”
An hour into the fair, the lights dimmed and the crowd filled rows of red Grille chairs until there were none left, then stood two or three deep at the back. Smiling students walked the runway, displaying Chinese Qipao and Indonesian Kebaya dresses, Kenyan Maasai robes, Honduran tela lenca shirts, and Canadian athletic clothes. Many completed their outfits with a pair of sneakers.
Judith Flier said she did not bring traditional Dutch clothing to America, but she still wanted to put her culture on the stage. She found her chance in the final portion of the Cultural Fair.
Flier stepped onstage with pigtail braids and a bright orange “Holland” shirt, following an Indonesian trio who raised sweet, clear voices to sing island folk songs, and closed with a ramen noodle jingle.
Flier fixed her capo and papers with a grin and informed the audience she would take them on a tour of the Netherlands through song. She began with Amsterdam, but quickly switched to regional songs, and a one about nostalgia for small towns in general.
When she finished, Melanie Saavedra, from Panama, sang “Un Poco Loco.” Enock Rop joined her for the second half of the song, then brought his guitar onstage to sing about Kenya. He was followed by Tommy Shin with a well-known South Korean song called “Arirang,” of which every region of his country has a version. He sang a medley of those versions, and the talent show closed with a latina hip hop dance routine by Melanie Saavedra.
When Enock Rop took the stage in the talent show, he called for a round of applause for Auntie Deb.
“She’s a Kenyan,” he told the audience. “A Kenyan from Iowa.”
Rop said Sioux Center is similar to his rural hometown in Kenya, and he was surprised when he came here to find that Iowans have so much in common with his Kenyan community. He found a warm, rural welcome at Dordt that makes him feel at home.
Flier, too, comes from a small community. She choose to start her medley with Amsterdam because when people hear she is from the Netherlands, they usually link her to the capital city. She wanted to start there, with a familiar name, then pull away and remind people there is more to her country.
“There’s something so special,” Flier said, “about people sharing from their culture, and other people being open to hear it, to taste it, to see it. It’s just so neat to be able to show a bit of where you’re from because I know that being Dutch is a part of my identity.”