Diverse Howard County highlighted at South Asia Culture Cafe

The Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System in Ellicott City was transformed Sunday into a bustling showcase of dancing, singing and food — home of the South Asia Culture Café.

The café, sponsored by the library system and Columbia Association, featured the countries of India, Nepal and Pakistan, with various Howard County groups and residents sharing what makes each culture special.

“Simply put, this is about exposing people to others,” said Kelli Shimabukuro, community education and partnership coordinator for the library system. “With this, we can see how people dress, how they speak, the music they play, the art, the language.”

Howard County is so diverse, and people may go to school with or work with those of another culture, but may never know it in day-to-day life, Shimabukuro said.

The café — with folk songs, dancing, native dress and food — is a way to celebrate culture while teaching others about it, said Laura Smit, CA’s program manager of International Exchange and Multicultural Programs.

“While it’s great for some from Pakistan or India to share their culture, it’s also great for someone not from Pakistan or India to see the richness of those cultures,” said Valerie Montague, volunteer chair for the International and Multicultural Advisory Committee for CA. “It’s another way for people show pride in who they are in a very public place, outside of their own community.”

It’s not the first time the CA has partnered with the library system for such an event. CA has hosted similar events in the past, and in the spring, the two partnered for the first time to host an East Asia Culture Café. Smit said they hope to host regionally centered events in the near future.

Christie Lassen, public relations director of the library system, said the Miller Branch could see as many as 2,000 patrons Sunday, with many attending the exhibits.

In the café, a buffet was set up with numerous dishes and drinks from the various cultures present, while in the tech room, library staff read from children’s books in English, Bengali and Urdu.

“Stories are fun in any language,” said Fatima Azam, an instruction and research specialist with the library system, after reading a story to a room of children and families in Urdu. “Some of the translation isn’t direct, but you can still get the story across in your expressions, how you move.”

Erum Malik, a Pakistani-American who lives in Ellicott City, said the café was an opportunity for people to see both the similarities and the differences in the diverse cultures of Howard County.

“We are all Americans, and that’s the beauty of America,” Malik said. “(The different cultures) bring color to the country, and it’s a living process. We all live and work in the same place, but we come from a lot of different cultural backgrounds.”

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