SMC 'Friendsgiving' Breaks Bread Between Cultures

Students and faculty came together during a ‘Friendsgiving’ dinner hosted by the Asian Cultural Exchange Association at Santa Monica College on Wednesday, Nov. 21 from 4-7 p.m. in the cafeteria.

People who came were given a plate of sliced turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, rolls, and drinks, in addition to pumpkin pie with whipped cream at no cost. Red envelopes filled with a dollar, which is customary in Chinese culture, were passed out to give a bit of an outside culture to an otherwise American holiday. Organizers also held a canned food drive at the event, with donations going to students in need through the Associated Students of SMC.

As this event was free for everybody involved, the ACEA reached out to get sponsors. In addition to food prepared by Campus Kitchen and Eat St., the club also made a proposal to the A.S. for just under $3000 from their activities account, and $400 from their club account. They also received $2600 in donations.

This is not the first time an event like this has happened on campus. Last year, the ACEA had the same event, originally started from the the club's former president, Jennifer Chen, the current president for the A.S.

“Every time that Thanksgiving comes with no family that I can celebrate with, so I just stay home or go Black Friday shopping,” Chen said. “We had this idea that we can do a Thanksgiving dinner here for international students, or homeless students, or any student who has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving and to actually learn the culture, to learn the history of Thanksgiving. And it’s just great trying to gather everyone to come together as an SMC family.”

Da El Yang is the current president for the ACEA and helped plan the event with the board members. Last year had around 350 participants, so the club expected about 500 this semester. Initial plans started about two and a half months ago.

“This event went easier than last time because we already had a set example. We used the example that we had before, and we did it in a much bigger number,” Yang said. “There was also difficulty because it was just one club trying to handle all of this. We reached out to a couple different of clubs so that we could find ways to announce this.”

Dr. Nancy Grass, Associate Dean of Student Life spoke to everybody in attendance about a brief history of Thanksgiving and how its meaning has changed over the years.

The event emphasized how its intent was on bringing people together and enjoying a nice meal. Even its advertised name of ‘Friendsgiving’ was a way to put a focus on the people at SMC rather than the controversial past of Thanksgiving as evident by Dr. Grass’ speech on history.

“Everything in our history is complicated. There are many more stories than just the victors and the losers,” Dr. Grass said. “But what we make with it and what we do with it now in our time […] as we kind of come to terms with our history that it’s kind of ugly at times. We can use that to create a better future for ourselves. And that we can make the Thanksgiving holiday what we want it to mean for us."

Dr. Grass also complimented the work of the ACEA, including Charlie Yen, the club’s advisor. A former alumnus at SMC, Yen is the Director of Contracts and Events for SMC.

“I think this event really brings people together. It’s a good way for students to join each other and know each other better and to bring other cultures together.”

In addition to students, several faculty and other members of SMC were invited to the dinner. Chen felt that inviting members of the college would be a good way for them to meet students on campus outside of their office. Dr. Nancy Greenstein, a member of the SMC Board of Trustees was one such person.

“What could be better than amazing students, from all walks of life, breaking bread together. I am so impressed with the leadership on campus [because] they know how to get something done. Look at the people here today, it’s not easy to provide free food for everybody,” Dr. Greenstein said.

Also in attendance was Superintendent and President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, who enjoyed the night.

“It’s a great opportunity for students across the college to come together and for our students who are away from home,” Dr. Jeffery said. “It’s like reaching out of the box. All majors, all backgrounds, all cultures and I think it fits perfectly with the way the organization was primarily responsible for introducing the Asian culture exchange. It’s everybody together.”

The event’s original vision to give international students a small taste of the holiday was still in effect, with many students from different countries around the world coming to the dinner. Summer Le is in her first semester and is from Vietnam.

“This is actually the first time that I had a traditional American Thanksgiving dish. It was really good," Le said. "I really appreciate that they planned it and they gave everyone the opportunity to enjoy an American Thanksgiving."