By: Taylor Bata
UN Day 2019 was arguably the largest yet for ASW. With a record number of 38 tables, the Main Building Gym, Flag Hall, and surrounding areas were full of activity, and dazzled visitors with vibrant displays of the nations represented.
Display sizes ranged from over three folding tables long, such as China, or two tables shared among the three countries. This was seen from the Southern American tables: Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico.
While there are a diverse range of countries represented in our school, what constitutes a country to be represented on UN Day? Among the student body, there seems to be confusion on who is given representation and when. This was seen as Puerto Rico, a territory of the US and not a member of the UN, was given recognition in the flag ceremony. Their flag was brought around and paraded underneath the UN’s own flag.
“I don’t get how Puerto Rico got a flag, but Hong Kong didn’t. They both are not members of the United Nations,” said Filip N, of the senior class. Currently, there are a few staff members who are current or former Hong Kong permanent residents, such as Mr. James, Ms. Bechdoldt, Mr. Taylor, and students who are Hong Kongers, like Florence M.
Before the flag ceremony, Florence, (wearing a Hong Kong shirt and French face paint) was asked if it was important to see both of her nations represented in the ceremony. “Personally, I do not think it’s very important. I don’t see a Puerto Rican flag, so that’s comparable to Hong Kong being given one.”
After the ceremony, and after seeing Puerto Rico being announced, she was asked the same question, “I would understand [why there was no flag] because they [the school] would not want to cause any political unrest. I know for example the UN does not recognise Taiwan as an official country because they do not want to cause and conflict with China. That is something to consider and something similar could be applied to Hong Kong.”
Is not upsetting countries the motivation for keeping some flags and omitting others? Hong Kong did not have a table at the actual display section, but Puerto Rico did. We sat down with school director Mr. Zurfluh to find out more.
As the UN flag is displayed above the other flags passing below in the procession, some could argue that this holds a deeper meaning in interpreting what UN Day stands for. Mr. Z thinks,“[This does not hold] a significant symbolic weight, just that the United Nations that continues to stand as one of the only entities that seeks to provide for tolerance of diversity worldwide. I know they are dozens if not hundreds of political issues underneath that banner but we are not into the politics of those issues. No. If there is one unifying world theme, that is the United Nations, and it helps to present that point of view.”
In his speech, Mr. Zurfluh stated that,”[you] need to respect your roots and understand your identity… respect diversity and embrace that diversity.”
As a strict “UN nation only” rule is not used for the flag ceremony, different criteria is adhered to. Mr. Z touched on the fact that Puerto Rico “is a part of the United States, and we wouldn’t want everybody bringing their state flag to the table, but Puerto Rico does have a cultural heritage. It may have been a leftover from years past, where students brought forward and student’s said it was a cultural heritage, and I would like to see it represented. We don’t do a lot of scrutiny over this.”
The flag ceremony has been a part of the school’s culture for over 20 years, and Mr. Sidaway, who has been in charge of the Flag Ceremony for the past three years, explained the process by which a flag is chosen and added to the procession. “The way it works is we export a list of all the countries on our Power School and information system, and we look at first, second and even third passport holder for every student then we have a flag for each and every nationality at the school.”
Puerto Rico does not have an official passport as it is a US territory. However, one new student has it listed as their nationality, so the flag is represented automatically without the need for any outside intervention.
Mr. Z continued, “We did have a concern about Hong Kong as there is controversy if it is a separate identity or not. We only had at the end of the day one family that had no vested interest that was represented by that flag. It was a brand new one; it was one that we had not had before… The Hong Kong flag came on and there was some consternation expressed about that, but there was no one who stood up about maintaining it or keeping it. So we said there was no real reason to include it at this point. It could come back in the future if a group said we do identify with this flag.”
A letter on how the day is not about political lines but cultural heritage was prepared to be released if needed.
From the student body, few knew about this issue, and it was not publicized in the days leading up to UN Day. There was no direct outlet where students could voice their opinion regarding this decision as the information was not made available to them. How would this be remedied in the future?
On this topic, Mr. Z answered, “we continue to grow and develop our methodology… we need additional formalities for the process.”