Nationality Rooms Open House Celebrates Global Customs

 

(Note: This article originally appeared in Pittwire, November 28. 2018.)

The Nationality Rooms inside the University of Pittsburgh’s iconic Cathedral of Learning are dressed and ready for the holidays. And the annual Holiday Open House, to be held this Sunday, Dec. 2, brings new excitement by revealing the long-awaited Philippine Nationality Room.

Nearly 20 years in the making, the new space marks the 31st Nationality Room. The rooms, which also function as classrooms (except two), are designated Pittsburgh Historic Landmarks that tell the stories of different cultural traditions across the globe, from Poland to Japan, Turkey to Sweden. To celebrate the holidays, each Nationality Room Committee puts on a display of traditional décor.

The Nationality Rooms have hosted the day-long Holiday Open House since 1991. It serves as an “invented holiday” of sorts, said E. Maxine Bruhns, director of Pitt’s Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange programs since 1965. Around 4,000 guests attended last year’s festivities filled with performances, room tours and displays from cultures around the world.

Admission to the event is free to the public, with traditional food and ethnic items available for purchase.

Proceeds from the Holiday Open House help fund the Summer Study Abroad Nationality Rooms Scholarships. Last year, a record-breaking 58 undergraduate and graduate students were able to study abroad because of the funds.

“I have a feeling we’re going to break the record again this year,” Bruhns said.

A look at the new room

Although the Philippine Nationality Room will not officially be complete until its dedication ceremony in June 2019, the Philippine Nationality Room Task Force decided to open its doors early, as a sneak peek, for the holiday season.

“We are very proud to have finally accomplished our goal of raising the funds for the room,” said Justina Purpura, fundraising chair of the Philippine Nationality Room Task Force. “We created the room as a legacy for our children. We are proud of our heritage and want to share it,” said Purpura, who immigrated to Pittsburgh from Manila at the age of 27 in 1981. “We are hoping that people come and visit and feel the Filipino hospitality and culture,” she added.

The Philippine Nationality Room Task Force comprises seven members and represents three Pittsburgh-based Filipino community associations: The Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh, the Philippine American Medical Society of Western Pennsylvania and the Philippine American Performing Arts of Greater Pittsburgh.

“Every detail of the room has a story,” Purpura said.

The Philippine Room is modeled after the Bahay na bato tradition, which translates to “house of stone,” reflecting the style of the Philippines’ Spanish colonial period. The room’s paneled bay windows are covered in capiz, or oyster shells, which are widely used in the Philippines for window shutters. For the holidays, star-shaped parol lanterns, all made of capiz, will adorn the room, emanating a warm tropical glow of red, orange, yellow and blue.

Visitors will also feel the warmth of traditional family-oriented Filipino culture. On Sunday, guests will watch an enactment of the Christmas tradition of Mano Po, a hand gesture between a child and an elder to signify respect.

“Christmas is really about family,” said Purpura. “When I was growing up in Manila, it was an open house. It was about food also.”

Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional Filipino food, such as pancit, a traditional noodle dish, lumpianitos, mini eggrolls, and biko, a Filipino dessert made of rice and coconut milk.

All Nationality Rooms will feature special decorations and cultural customs at the weekend event. The beloved Commons Room, too, is all dressed up for the holidays.

“It’s just a place of unity,” said first-year chemistry and biology double major Leila Letica as she spent a snowy day studying in the Cathedral of Learning.  “When I walked in today, it was glowing and super friendly and welcoming.”