A blend of both

Jhenevie Oca

More stories from Jhenevie Oca


Strung along almost every wall, door, post and hall in DGS is a sign that says “Hate has no home here.” Written underneath is that same phrase in 10 different languages with the intent of creating a more inclusive community.

According to the Illinois Report Card, 59.3 percent of the DGS student population is white. Despite this fact, DGS has made it a goal to become a more unified community by accepting many diverse groups of students. The first step in accepting another culture is getting to know more about it.  

Many students here at DGS are part of more than one culture. At times this may be difficult to deal with because each aspect of a culture has different values that may conflict with another. However, many students are determined to find a happy medium between the two. At first, the angle of this article was going to be about balancing cultures, but after speaking to Social Studies Teacher Carolyn Flores, it changed because in reality there is no such thing as a perfect balance.

“I think that [balance] is a word that exists in the ideal form. For example, a lot of people talk about the work/life balance for working moms, but it is never really a balance. You just try to do the best you can,” Flores said.

It’s not about balancing cultures, it is about blending them.

The phrase, “be yourself and don’t try to fit in,” is a very popular piece of advice, especially among teenagers. But this statement applies to more than just finding a friend group, but finding your identity in a cultural aspect. Senior Riya Bhasin grew up immersed in two cultures: Indian culture and American culture.  

Because her first language is Hindi, Bhasin at first often had a few difficulties communicating with other students, which sometimes led her to feel left out. As she got older and more customized to the American culture, she learned how important it is to choose values from each culture that fits with her personally versus trying to fit into each culture.

“Sometimes there’s a misconception that if you belong to a certain culture, you must abide by all the expectations that come with it. I think of it more as taking the culture and applying the values that I see myself fit in with. There are factors I may agree with, there are factors I may disagree with. In that way, I choose what parts of the culture I want to identify with,” Bhasin said.

Many students here at DGS have had found it easier said than done to blend these cultures at home and at school. For Senior Eldwin Neritani, it didn’t come easy learning what was appropriate in certain scenarios. He’s had to learn to “code switch,” which is the act of alternating between certain ways you might express yourself depending on the environment you’re in.

“The main struggle of finding a balance between the two would be finding what is appropriate/the norm in that situation. There’s a lot of ‘code-switching’ that I have to do when I talk to some of my friends or a teacher in America compared to when I talk to someone from Albania,” Neritani said.

Another struggle that many students have had to face, including sophomore Judith Paniagua-Chavez, was vying for a grasp on their identity at such a young age.

“When I was in 5th grade I became very angry because of the way my life changed,” Paniagua-Chavez said.

“I was bullied because I didn’t know how to speak English when I moved to the suburbs. I was the only Mexican in my class and students would laugh at the way I looked and talked. Students would call me dumb or stupid sometimes, but I proved them wrong as I got older and showed them that I’m a smart and talented person. I had to learn how to be different,” Paniagua-Chavez said.

Another dilemma students have had to face is having to deal with some of the hatred that radiates off of others, whether it’s on purpose or not. The heart of the issue is the intolerance of other cultures that follow ignorance: prejudice. Senior Thea Duffus gives a candid response about how she has taken the brunt of ignorance.

“You know, I want to give you a concrete example or instance, [of prejudice] but I think at this point any prejudice that occurs against me is so commonplace that I can’t even recognize it in its subtlety anymore, which is pretty sad actually. Being black in America is synonymous for prejudice and racism, so I can’t even distinguish a specific time for you,” Duffus said.

But despite all of these adversities that Neritani, Chavez and Duffus have had to go through, they said they wouldn’t change their situation for anything; their struggles have shaped them to be who they are today as have both cultures they’re a part of.

“What I love about each culture separately is that there are a lot of differences between them, with their specific traditions and lifestyles, that it opens my eyes to many different sides to someone’s life,” Neritani said.

“Albanian culture is more centered around family and support through working for yourself, with American culture being much more commercialized and how your economic status is able to assist your livelihood. Together, I love that I am able to use the differences between the cultures to my advantage, being able to see situations in different ‘lenses,’ and being able to understand how and why people choose the decisions they do,” Neritani said.

Chavez explains that she wouldn’t know who she would be without her culture.

“I can’t imagine myself without my culture. My family roots make up who I am and the meaning of where I came from. If I didn’t have this I would feel lost,” Chavez said.

Duffus is also an example of what it means to become victorious over the prejudice she has faced.

“It’s taught me to have tough skin and not let anything cut too deep. Of course, it bruises my mental state and enhances my insecurities, but I always remind myself I am who I say I am and nothing anybody can say will change that. As long as it doesn’t harm me physically, I can ignore it,” Duffus said.

This generation is constantly reflecting on what it can do better as a whole. More people have made the effort to get to know other cultures. Many of Neritani’s teachers have asked him about the Albanian culture as well as its location. He says that usually prompts them to want to know even more.

Senior Angelica Cudzich appreciates that people make the effort to include her parents in the conversation who immigrated from Poland.

“Many of my friends try to learn the language to talk to my parents more, and it is nice to see that they care to know them and my parents appreciate that a lot,” Cudzich said.

Senior Charlene De Guzman, who has been to many other schools before, noticed the improvement that DGS has made to create a more unified community.

“I think that compared to many of the schools around the area or those that I’ve been to, DGS has done quite well with promoting diversity and making effort in that,” Deguzman said.

Duffus also believes that DGS has made progress.

“I learned in my sociology class that DGS is actually one of the most diverse schools in the area and I have to agree. We have so many people from different walks of life and are therefore able to learn to tolerate one another better because people from different cultures meet every day,” Duffus said.

DGS has various clubs that highlight the importance of cultures such as French club, Spanish club, and German club. Cultures In Alliance also focuses on uniting all cultures through food, music, and dance. Caribbean Soul is centered on appreciating Latin/Spanish dances. Those are just to name a few.

However, while DGS has made a ton of progress, Flores stresses that there’s always room for improvement.

“I think the moment you think an institution or a person is doing a ‘good job,’ you run the risk of stop striving to do better. I think we should always strive to improve. A more diverse faculty and a more inclusive curriculum could be places to start,” Flores said.

Bhasin explains in the simplest terms of what each person can do. 

“Allow yourself to learn more about cultures, whether you can identify with them or not. Taking some time to understand a culture may help you understand a person better,” Bhasin said.

America is often described as a melting pot because of how diverse it is. Because of this diversity, there are many invaluable lessons that can be learned from many new perspectives.

Therefore, a person does not just choose one ideal to identify with. They do not choose only one culture to be a part of. This is because a person is not just “one thing” but rather a blend of many.