It is midday, and the melodious sounds of Afrobeats mix with bright laughter on McCarthy Quad. The sun might be glaring, but that doesn’t stop students from moving in harmony with the vibrant rhythms booming over the loudspeakers. Some passersby shoot them amused looks while others stop and stare for a moment, but that doesn’t faze them; they dance as if no one is watching.
Students from across the African diaspora, those of African descent whom do not live in their country of origin, were given the chance to let loose and bond over their shared cultural experiences on Saturday at an event held by USC’s Pan African Student Association (PASA).
The cultural expo titled “Da Real Westworld” brought together clothing, jewelry and food vendors from across Los Angeles for the purpose of “reflecting on what the West means,” according to a flyer for the event on PASA’s Instagram.
The concept for “Da Real Westworld” was originated by USC alumnus Yoofi Quansah, who proposed the idea to PASA’s board of directors during a meeting.
“He basically advocated for some kind of cultural expo and marketplace where buyers and sellers could interact, and buy things that are similar to African traditional items,” said Serish Thakker, PASA’s associate director.
From there it was a matter of devising a plan of action, which depended largely on “securing funding from the International Student Assembly,” according to Director of Finance Michael Mikail.
Seeking out and confirming vendors for the event also proved to be a considerable hurdle, as USC has an “extensive approval process” that requires outside vendors to complete paperwork months in advance, according to Director of Programming Aqua Richards.
Despite the vetting, vendors were secured, including Edem’s Closet, Tara’s Fashion House, Soronko, and Bomu. The boutiques all specialize in creating garments and accessories inspired by traditional West African aesthetics and designs. Island to Table Patty Hut, an eatery specializing in Jamaican cuisine, was also present at the event.
Given that the population of Black-identifying students at USC was only 5.6% for the fall 2018 semester, the significance of events such as “Da Real Westworld” cannot be overlooked. Cultural heritage events similar to PASA’s expo can help students “feel at home at least once in a while,” according to PhD in economics student Fatou Thioune.
“I miss cultural food from home and I haven’t gotten a lot of that since I was in LA, so it felt like this would be a really nice space to be in right now,” said sophomore health and human sciences major Erela Datuowei on her motives for attending the event.
For students such as sophomore Felanté Charlemagne, who is of Carribean descent, events celebrating the African diaspora are important “for the sake of having a space [where] people who share a cultural heritage can get together and bond, especially as students at a predominantly white institution.”
Cultural events on campus can also serve to provide visibility to communities that often don’t receive it, as Thakker attested to.
“I think that a lot of people tend to look at it [Africa] as just one entire collective identity. Events like this help to give people more information and knowledge about the differences there are and the ways that there is positivity,” Thakker said.
Moving forward, PASA would like to increase their presence on campus by letting the USC community know their organization is “very inclusive and very open to anybody coming to [their] meetings."
"We want everyone to know what our culture is about,” said Executive Director Kwaku Rogers.
For Mikail, he would ultimately like those outside of the African diaspora within USC to understand there are many different ways to be African.
“We have Caribbeans in our group, we have people born in Africa, we have first generation Africans...we have people that are ethnically something else but they’ve had families that have lived in Africa for years and years,” Mikail said. "There are a lot of different ways to identify as African, and we’re not monolithic.”
Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the Pan African Student Association as the “Pan African Student Union”. The story has been updated to reflect PASA’s correct title.