Nearly 40 UCLA students from across the African continent gathered at Rieber Hall last week to promote unity among groups of African students on campus.
UCLA’s East African Students ‘Association and UCLA’s Nigerian Students’ Association held their first annual East Meets West week from Tuesday to Friday. The four-day event aimed to unite students from the east and west coasts of Africa. Activities included a discussion on the divisions between the two coasts, a karaoke night and an African dance workshop where dance coordinators from both groups taught people traditional dances from different African nations.
Faith Bosede, president of the NSA and doctoral student in physiological sciences student, said the two groups organized the event because they wanted to foster interactions between members of their organizations.
“We wanted to see African unity at UCLA,” Bosede said. “This type of event didn’t happen between these two organizations, so we thought it would be a great idea.
Temesgen Gebreyesus, EASA social president and fourth-year political science student, said Africa’s east and west coasts have traditionally experienced a cultural divide that dates back to the colonial era, during which separations physical and cultural among African nations have become more solidified.
“Regarding the divide between West Africa and East Africa, until we unlearn what we have always learned, we embody it,” Gebreyesus said. “We bring these colonial beliefs, especially colonial beauty standards.”
The groups discussed how differences in skin tones, hair textures and body types have often been a source of division due to various stereotypical beauty standards in Africa.
Yabeth Haile, vice president of EASA and second year student in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, said he thinks it is important to understand the diversity of Africa.
“Africa is seen as a monolith. People don’t understand the diversity there, ”Haile said. “Africa is such a vast continent, and the diversity that emerges between countries is so vast that there is no archetype.”
During the event, students discussed the differences and similarities in the marriage traditions of the two cultures, such as the traditional clothes worn at weddings, types of food and styles of dancing. Despite the differences between East and West Africans, Haile said he was surprised at the similarity of their two cultures.
“After the event, regardless of the perceived differences, we turned out to be much smaller than our similarities,” Haile said. “I found out that we were actually sharing more than I expected.”
Hermona Okbu, president of EASA and fourth-year human biology and society student, said that while colonialism may have caused the separation between the two coasts, the two groups can still appreciate their differences.
“I believe there is beauty in the divisions as well, as seen through different cultural values, traditions and practices,” Okbu said. “Everything is so beautiful. “
In the future, the groups plan to participate in more events together and become more involved in each other’s annual cultural performances. Okbu said being able to bring these two organizations together was special for these two communities and a step forward in uniting the African community on campus.
“We are able to bridge the gap between the two groups,” Okbu said. “We reinforce each other with new support systems and new connections. “
Bosede said that for her East Meets West Week was more than a week of fun events, but rather a personal mission to break down all the barriers between the two groups.
“The only reason I decided to run for president of the Nigerian Students Association was because I wanted to empower and unite my community,” Bosede said. “I see East Africans as my community.