Exploring Mendham’s World Language Week


Image courtesy of Smore.com

Jordan Larrabee, Staff Writer

This year’s World Language spirit week took place from April first to fifth and included the cultures of Italian, represented in white on Monday, followed by the Chinese in red, French in blue, Portuguese in green, and finally yellow on Friday for Spanish. Students were encouraged to coordinate their clothing with the colors of the day to show support. Morning announcements were conducted in the language of the day, including music from the respective cultures. Topping off the event was a cafeteria stocked with traditional foods that students were able to purchase during lunch.

The event offers itself as an opportunity for the students of Mendham High School to view a small piece of culture they otherwise may not be familiar with or regularly exposed to. In order to cater to all cultures, every year the two slots of days not set aside for the offered languages at Mendham (Spanish, French, and Chinese) are switched to other countries, such as Latin and Germany in recent years. This year Portuguese and Italian were nominated in these positions.

In talking with one of the lead organizers of the event and adept Spanish teacher Vivian Gil-Botero about the motivations and the importance of the event, it became clear the week was far more than a display of unfamiliar cultures. Immigrants, especially those of different languages, are the extreme minority in Mendham. Exposure to the people who make the radical transition from home to the U.S. is critical to building an understanding and relationship with these people. For example, the U.S. is home to around 53,000,000 Spanish speakers, 41,000,000 being native speakers. This is higher than both the countries of Spain and Columbia. New Jersey was ranked as having the seventh highest proportional Spanish speaking population in 2018 by the Telelanguage organization. 1,340,000, or 15.9% of the total population identified as a Spanish speaker. This is not reflected in the area around Mendham and Chester, where almost the entirety of the population is white, English speaking,  and not subject to the same struggles that come with living as a minority in America. This false sense of the world and who really lives in it drives feelings of intolerance and hostilities to those who can be viewed as “different” simply according to their language, accent, skin color, or anything along those lines.

This week is so important in the facilitation of a better understanding of other cultures and the people who sacrifice so much to relocate to our country. Designating the event to be held on this week in April does not restrict these views from persisting throughout the year, however. It is crucial to always live with a balance of pride in your culture while simultaneously remaining open to experiencing new cultures and traditions, or as Cesar Chavez puts it concisely,  “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”