EDITORIAL: Why FON matters

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During the early spring semester, the Townsend Harris High School community is emerged in The Festival of Nations performance, FON, a weekend-long celebration, featuring dances from various cultures that exist within the student body. On March 10 and 11, student performers gathered to showcase their dances, choreographed by student leaders, which included multiple songs and signature dance moves from specific cultures. Students were allowed to join performances from other cultures to promote inclusivity and learn more about the musical backgrounds of their peers. There are few events that occur during the school year that inspire as much passion and commitment as FON, but what about it makes it so important to the student body? 

In a world riddled with division, the FON production at THHS is something that brings students together and actively encourages cultural exchanges through dance and expression. 

FON demonstrates that teaching children to work with those outside their race, culture, and ethnic group can create something beautiful. FON is not only about educating but also about expressing. Many of the students performing have emigrated from their countries. Many others have never been to their ancestral land. This student-led performance allows them to show the Townsend community what makes their culture a home for millions of people worldwide.

New York State is often considered to be “one of the most diverse states” due to the large existing populations of various immigrant communities. While New York City High Schools serve an overall more diverse population than most districts across the nation, New Yorks  schools have been called “ among the most segregated by race and class in the country.” This leaves less room for students to have the opportunity to engage themselves with other cultures. And this dilemma hasn’t escaped THHS.

THHS’s history goes back much further than anyone currently attending or working within its halls. Though this longevity reflects THHS’ strong culture and social impact, it also tells the story of a different time. When THHS opened as a 3-year program in 1904, its student body consisted only of young boys, most of whom identified as white, Jewish, and Eastern European. However, the school’s  reopening in 1984 brought about significant change, initiating the admission of young girls into its population. Today, THHS has a diverse student body, with 81.5% of students identifying as minorities (53.8% Asian, 11.2% Hispanic, 5.3% Black, and 11.2% others) and 64% of students identifying as girls.  

And while there’s still much room for improvement in the distribution of diversity among the student body, these changes have inspired more representation in an academic institution that previously lacked diversity. 

Cultivating an environment that is welcoming of cultural differences instills respect and appreciation in students. THHS’ demographic is a breeding ground for socially aware and accepting individuals, which is enough to reflect the importance of FON. With over fifteen cultures represented across twenty-one performances, the two-and-a-half-hour show proves that change is possible. 

While many high schools across the state have their own individual versions of the FON production, what makes THHS particularly interesting is the way in which students are highly encouraged to participate in dances that they may not be familiar with. Even though some may argue that allowing students outside of a certain culture to participate in a performance that does not necessarily represent them is cultural appropriation, the practice inspires intercultural relationships rather than encouraging shallow displays. By giving students a direct opportunity to interact with a new group of people, THHS is fostering a community of cultural awareness, which otherwise would cease to exist. 

FON is something that all Harrisites look forward to during their academic year and has only grown in popularity since its inception. Beyond just a “fun time with friends,” this presentation is an integral part of our community as it brings us together, and highlights what makes us unique.