My Cultural Heritage

My Cultural Heritage

Walking into my apartment, it sounded like a small mariachi band was rehearsing in my bedroom. I couldn’t help but smile; my roommate is a riot sometimes. I sat down on the couch to do some homework. The Mexican folk music blared for another hour and then the door opened revealing Paola, my roommate, and Mariana, laughing. Mariana was wearing an enormous blue dress, Paola, gym shorts and a t-shirt. They immediately pulled the kitchen table aside and set up their stereo on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t until right then that I remembered the Washington Center’s International Festival was that Friday! I watched the two girls practice their dance for awhile before retiring to my room and promising them that I’d see them perform on Friday.


Paola singing

Washington Center students partaking in the International Festival.

Friday evening the lower level of the RAF was exploding with activity. Aromas of foods I’d never heard of before enticed me over to colorful tables, loaded with plates full of ethnic cooking and staffed with proud Washington Center students dressed in their country’s traditional garb. I tasted sweets from Kazakhstan, chow from Puerto Rico, and candies from Canada. Food was just starting to run low when we were all summoned into the Blinken Auditorium for the main event and a full meal provided by TWC. Almost every country of the 16 represented at the Washington Center this semester prepared some sort of dance, song, or talent. The strong connection that each person on stage held with their culture, the sure footed way that they danced, they elegant way one poured tea, made me a bit jealous. I fidgeted in my seat feeling like my cultural identity didn’t much surpass my United States' passport.

The next morning, I walked the few blocks from the RAF to the Capitol Building. One of my friends in the Washington Center is a Congressional intern for a Congressman in New Jersey and her many duties include giving tours of the Capitol Building. The Capitol Building marks the center of Washington D.C., breaking the city into its four quadrants (northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast). On the second floor, inlaid in the stone tile is a white star, indicating the very center of D.C. It’s only now that I stop to reflect on the number of Americans that have come from all over the country, all walks of life, all age groups, and socioeconomic backgrounds that have stood on that star.


the center of DC

Stepping into the Capitol’s dome, your eyes trace up along the stone walls, past Presidential statutes, across colossal paintings of our founding fathers and over the frieze depicting America’s history from Columbus’ arrival to the Wright Brother’s first moments of flight.  At the top of the dome is an elaborate painting of George Washington sitting amongst 13 women, representative of the original 13 colonies. The room is quiet, save a few inquisitive whispers of children, a resounding tone of respect within the dome. I turn on my heels to take in the full splendor of the room until my neck starts to strain and my friends are ready to move to the next room.


Next is the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world and the oldest federal cultural institution in America. The library, equipped with 151,785,778 cataloged books, incunabula, monographs, music, newspapers, reports, pamphlets, and other printed materials, serves the 541 members of the United States Congress, their staff, and the public. Amongst camera flashes and guided tours, I fell in love with this building. High, colorful ceilings and elaborate, stone floors thoughtfully pay tribute to scholars, intellectuals, and pioneers who have shaped our world. But this magnificent building is also a symbol of our democracy. One of the first libraries in our nation was started by Benjamin Franklin. The equal access to knowledge served as a social leveler, an opportunity, a model that coincides with the American dream.


Our history, my history, is mapped out here in this city. I can trace my family heritage in the National Archives, I can map my town in the Library of Congress, thank my grandfather at the Korean War Memorial, and speak with my State Representative. This city is dedicated to the history, but also the future, of the United States of America.  This country is a place where I can sit in Blinken Auditorium in the RAF to welcome and enjoy the cultural differences of my peers. Where I can throw my arms around the girl next to me in a bar on Election Night and cheer for Elizabeth Warren’s victory.  Where I can vote, get a college degree, and have a career. My cultural identity is far more than a blue passport. 25,000 visitors a year storm D.C. to connect with their own American heritage and I, well, I get to live here.

Experience a Day in the Life of an Intern at The Washington Center

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