Cultural assimilation: How there is a large pressure to fit in

Junior+Rupika+Jai+Ganesh+and+her+friend+at+the+2022+Diwali+event+at+Moline+High+School.+

Rupika Jai Ganesh

Junior Rupika Jai Ganesh and her friend at the 2022 Diwali event at Moline High School.

Rupika Jai Ganesh, Feature Editor

The United States census bureau states that the largest racial demographic group in Bettendorf, Iowa was White people, making up 86.2% of the population. Asians, the second largest demographic, make up just 6.4% of the demographic. 

At Pleasant Valley High School, 78.5% of the students are White, while the second largest demographic, Asians, is 9.9%. 

Although Pleasant Valley High School, statistically, has better diversity than the city of Bettendorf, does this slight change mean anything? 

No, it really doesn’t. 

The isolation that many students of color feel as residents of Bettendorf, and Iowa in general, is the same when they enter Pleasant Valley High School. 

I’ve been going to Pleasant Valley since the second grade, and although the district has become more diverse than it was in 2013 and 2014, the need to conform and assimilate still remains.

Whether it’s never bringing cultural food to school because others will make rude comments and complain or even something as simple as whitewashing an ethnic name, the need to adapt to the ways of the majority is largely present. 

And that’s what I did. 

In elementary school, I never brought cultural food to school, I let people say my name however they wanted to, I kept up with western media because it was cooler and looked down on media from my home country, and yet, despite all this, I never felt like I was one of them. I was left feeling confused about my identity. I didn’t feel American ‘enough’, but I didn’t feel Indian ‘enough’ either. 

However, I started feeling more confident in my ethnic identity again after I regularly started visiting and participating more in local cultural events. 

One of the main cultural events in the Quad Cities is the yearly Diwali program held by a local Indian organization named Friends of India Quad Cities (FIAQC). Diwali is a festival that celebrates the light over darkness, and in Hindu mythology, Lord Rama defeating the cruel Ravana. The FIAQC Diwali event usually takes place at a local high school and has dinner, dances, songs, skits and more. 

Another local cultural festival is Garba. Garba is an Indian dance that originated in Gujarat, and in the Quad Cities, the Garba event is multiple days and open to anyone who’s interested in dancing and having fun. In 2022, it was held at Pleasant Valley High School as well as the local Hindu Temple in Rock Island. 

Senior Aarya Joshi feels that these events have helped her connect more with her ethnic identity as well. “I definitely think events like Garba and Diwali have helped me reconnect with my culture, because not only are they fun events that I get to enjoy with friends, but I am reminded as to why I celebrate these holidays and how important they are in my culture.” she stated. 

Joshi also feels isolated from her culture sometimes because of her surroundings. “At times I feel out of touch with my culture, especially living in Bettendorf since it’s such a small city so there aren’t as many cultural events as there would be in other places” stated Joshi. 

Although Bettendorf and PVHS have lower levels of diversity, there could definitely be more organized events that open up the community’s eyes to diversity and celebrate people’s differences. 

“I definitely think PVHS could be more welcoming of different cultures. I know we put up the flags in the lunchroom and we have “cultural clubs”, but not many students pay attention to that stuff. However, I think if we actively did stuff that actually got attention from students, our school could be more diverse. For example, one of my friends that lives in Virginia had a couple of days where they decorated their school for Diwali and even had some Indian dishes in their school lunch.” Joshi continued. 

Although I, and many other students like Joshi, have become more comfortable and reconnected with our identities, there could be more general growth in inclusivity in our community. Celebrating and discussing different cultures isn’t something that this school should shy away from. Instead productive conversations need to be facilitated over topics like cultural traditions and food, and the school should actively try to discuss and celebrate diversity.