In a search for his identity, Rasheed Shabazz chose his own name — since then, he said, he has never felt more himself.
This is the story Shabazz, a recent UC Berkeley graduate, told the crowd of about 80 guests on Friday night’s African Cultural Show, organized by the African Student Union (ASU) at UC Santa Cruz. Keeping with the theme of the show, Shabazz discussed the importance of retaining one’s heritage, and how it informs one’s identity. For Shabazz, an African-American, his identity is deeply rooted in his Anglo-derived name.
“I rediscovered that the name of my forefathers has been imposed by the people and the society that owned them. It was a slave name,” Shabazz said. “It was a name imposed by slave masters … As someone who identifies as African, it didn’t make sense to have an English name.”
While Shabazz’s speech was the bow that tied the show together, the cultural concert featured a variety of different skits, musical acts, speeches and poetry, all celebrating African heritage. Concert organizer and co-chair of ASU, Shadin Awad, said the purpose of the show was to both entertain and educate.
“I hope people can take away that Africa is a continent with people who speak different languages, practice different faiths and are diverse in their phenotype,” Awad said.
UCSC undergraduate student Naomi Farrell attended the show because she wanted to watch her friends perform. However, she enjoyed watching the skits, specifically those depicting the family life of an African home.
“I loved seeing the role of the mother [in African culture], how she disciplines them and wants them to get along,” Farrell said.
The theme of a mother’s role in African culture was another centerpiece of the show, Awad said, who recited a poem about her mother. The poem was accompanied by a short skit about a mother trying to discipline her two fighting sons.
“For my piece about my mother, I really took it back to a lesson I was taught as a Muslim, which is, ‘be at your mother’s feet because that is where paradise is,’” Awad said. “This really just exemplified how important it is to be kind and respectful to your mother. I always looked at my mom as the rock of my family, and felt it was necessary to articulate how highly revered mothers are.”
The event celebrated the diversity of African nations by featuring students from these nations with their corresponding flags. Awad said this was an effort to promote Africa as a continent with many unique nations, all carrying “a rich history of activism.”
While Sudanese, Nigerian and Ethiopian cultures were discussed among others, Shabazz focused on his ethnic identity, the “New African” — a pan-ethnic identity representing the African-American ethnicity that exists in America today.
“There’s an old Amsterdam and a New Amsterdam, an Old York and a New York. We we’re all Africans once we arrived, but through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and ethnic mixing there was a formation of a new people,” Shabazz said. “There was so much of the mixing that it would be difficult to tell specifically where folks are from. So the idea of ‘New African’ and new people formed out of many different groups. It’s a new ethnicity.”
Together, the students who produced the event shared their experiences as Africans and as African-Americans in an educational and rewarding way.
“Much of the campus still talks about Africa as if it is a country with one singular identity, which makes it hard to be recognized as an individual,” Awad said. “[Africa is] a land of love, beauty and kindness.”