Music. Art. Dance. Poetry. With all of the misunderstanding and division around us, it is easy to forget how crucial these are to our mental and physical health. Music and the arts can bring us together and remind us of our connection to something much bigger than ourselves. They tie us to the past and help propel us forward.

I saw this firsthand recently when I attended a Lunar New Year concert put on by the UNR Chinese Students Association. It was an energetic evening of song and dance – and although I didn’t understand the announcements, I understood how the concert was bringing families and the community together. It was a first-generation little girl singing a traditional Chinese song with her family beaming in the audience. And a UNR student from China dancing hip-hop to Shaun Mendes while the crowd went wild.

Bridging Gaps

Music and the arts are bridging the gap for so many immigrant communities – they allow people to hold on to their traditions while learning about and becoming part of the culture of their new homes. In fact, their music and cultural traditions are often all they have left of their past lives. Music can be the glue that holds communities together. It can be a source of pride, a statement of identity, a way to bring people together, and a way to communicate who we are to those around us. As a first generation American, I have to admit that I have done a poor job of teaching my children the language and traditions of their grandparents. What I have been able to pass along, and what I hope will become an integral part of their lives, is music.*  They don’t understand the words when we listen to songs, but they make up their own words and dance – and they feel a connection with their heritage and their family.

Breaking down barriers

As corny as it sounds, music, art, poetry, and dance can help break down barriers that lead to so much fear of those who aren’t like us. And if we just open our ears, the arts can help us understand each other across the divide. So here’s an idea…the next time you are feeling angry or afraid, step out of your comfort zone and explore some music or art that you are unfamiliar with. Listen to some Appalachian bluegrass or Indonesian gamelan music, watch a Bollywood dance number, discover the beauty of Persian calligraphy, or listen to a poetry slam. You might not love everything you see or hear, but your world will expand and become a better place.

And if you’d like to get a head start on expanding your world and challenging some of your preconceptions, check out this video by Iranian singer Sogand.

*And food, can’t forget food 🙂

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