Thoughts on Rangeela from an international student

From the very first practice, participating in Rangeela has been a truly immense experience. Such celebration of culture and diversity combined with hard work and detailed organization made Rangeela successful. However, because I love Rangeela so much, I would like to give constructive criticism so that it might improve in the years to come.

Although this objection I have might depend on how one defines “culture,” I think it is important to recognize that the representation of culture at Rangeela, though great, was limited. As a friend and I were discussing, the cultural representation at Rangeela almost seemed, regardless of its initiative or primary purpose, to reinforce the expectations or stereotypes of other cultures that some Americans might have about other countries or cultures.

When I tell people that I am from Egypt, most people begin by asking about the pyramids. Now, I understand that these questions are well intended, but the culture of Egypt right now is so much more than just its iconic pyramids. Why does nobody ask me about Cairo, the second biggest city in Africa? Why does nobody ask me about the food or the music? And why does nobody ask me about the welcoming culture of Egypt?

Perhaps the media has perpetuated this stereotype through movies, comics and other media. Yet a part of me worries that Rangeela can act as an agent to further exacerbate the stereotypical images of other countries.

I was talking to my friend who is a junior and is from Latin America. She has participated in Rangeela all three years that she has been here. She tells me that the Japanese act last year did not do anything funny or energetic in remembrance of those who died and suffered from the tsunami. At first, she was surprised and even perplexed that they would choose to ruin the lively, spirited atmosphere of the entire performance with a simple, somber song. However, this made her realize that much of Rangeela only depicts the “fun-happy” sides of cultures. Although she loves Rangeela, her belief is that Rangeela should not only serve to entertain but to educate as well. This was the reason that she joined the Thai act this year, which mourned the loss of their king.

These are her words: “So I understand that because it [Rangeela] is a performance, we aim to impress people by music, dance or our costumes. But I wonder if we could switch gears a little bit and try our best to portray a fundamental part of our culture in the best way– dance, song, theatre, whatever we can. … I wonder if that would help people to get rid of their stereotypes and learn to be culturally sensitive/culturally competent.”

Despite understanding the limitations that Rangeela has, I wish that those who participate and lead in Rangeela choose wisely in their portrayal of a culture. Lively dances and traditional songs are great — that, too, is a part of culture — but I hope that the focus of Rangeela is not only to deliver performances that amplify exotic characterizations of a culture but to diversify its range of overarching messages, which would help to build an authentic, genuine bridge between cultures.

Rangeela act performances have a twofold purpose. First, they must include an instance or a moment of a culture. Secondly, it must also not only seek to entertain the audience, but inform the audience of the culture that it seeks to represent. Although an energetic dance is not bad, not all acts should be an elated dance. Instead, there should be more diversity in the ways Rangeela creates an experience for the audience. Why not create a film or documentary? Why not create visual art? Creative thinking is vital for Rangeela to become a unique experience that seeks to both educate and entertain. The primary purpose of Rangeela is to “celebrate” diversity. We should not only celebrate diverse cultures, but celebrate diverse aspects within the culture.

Please do not misunderstand this article to be an attack on Rangeela. I sincerely respect the Rangeela committee and the act leaders for the professional performance that they organize. Calvin has a pool of great thinkers and visionaries. If Rangeela could bring more than one dimension of a culture on stage, its impact would be so much greater. I ask that if you have any ideas, you share these thoughts and partner with Rangeela leaders to create a more authentic experience of cultures. I encourage Rangeela participants to have a stronger sense of vision and commitment for this ideal in both leaders and participants.

Contributions from Judy Kwon