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 Velan Manivannan puts ponnadai shawls on Sterling Heights Councilwoman Maria Schmidt and other City Council members during the March 6 Sterling Heights Cultural Exchange in the Sterling Heights Community Center.

Velan Manivannan puts ponnadai shawls on Sterling Heights Councilwoman Maria Schmidt and other City Council members during the March 6 Sterling Heights Cultural Exchange in the Sterling Heights Community Center.

Photo by Heather Gardner


Teen honors Sterling Heights City Council with tradition at Cultural Exchange

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 17, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — For Velan Manivannan, the Sterling Heights Cultural Exchange has been an annual part of life since he was a young child — one full of anticipation and sharing stories and performances where “everyone gets to see where you come from, and I get to see where everyone comes from.”

He has been a participant and has previously engaged with and educated the public through presentations about Tamil culture. But this year, the 16-year-old Stevenson High School junior said he was excited to take on a new role.

“I’m going to give a speech and thank the City Council in an Indian tradition,” he said.

At the March 6 Cultural Exchange’s beginning, Velan took part in a ceremony in which he draped a shawl called a ponnadai over the shoulders of the Sterling Heights City Council members in attendance.

“You just put it around the shoulders of someone who has done respected things in the community,” he said. “So we’ll be putting it on all the City Council because of what they have done with the city. ... It’s mainly to thank them, that they helped (us) for this many years.”

Subramaniam Manivannan, Velan’s father, said he has been involved with the city’s Ethnic Community Committee for many years. He described the ponnadai as a Tamil tradition that honors dignitaries.

He said his son’s participation in the ceremony personally meant seeing the next generation take a leadership role within Sterling Heights’ ethnic and diversity programming.

“My son has been exposed to this when he was a child and involved with me for all cultural activities,” he said in an email.

Subramaniam praised the Cultural Exchange for locally cultivating a multicultural society while helping younger generations retain their ancestral identities.

He added that the city of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, has a sister city partnership with Sterling Heights that promotes collaboration, student exchange and cultural awareness.

“We did several projects already,” he said. “Next project, my friend, who is (a) medical doctor locally, will travel to sister city Jaffna, Sri Lanka, on May 15.”

After the Cultural Exchange, Councilwoman Deanna Koski called the ceremony “fantastic” and said she was able to keep her ponnadai shawl afterward to store and treasure.

“I love learning other nationalities’ customs, and it just was very, very nice,” she said. “It matched my shirt perfectly.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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