What makes Africa special?” an emcee asked a crowd of about 250 people at the African Student Union’s (ASU) seventh annual cultural show.
“It’s where my mom came from.” “The diversity.” “To be from there is so rich,” audience members replied.
Held on May 11 at the Stevenson Event Center, the theme of the night was “Our Africa.” ASU chose this theme after anger and dissatisfaction with the media’s misrepresentation of Africa, such as the continent experiencing only extreme poverty or lack of resources. To combat these stereotypes, ASU decided to showcase what Africa means to its members.
“We want to show you that, what is our Africa is not what you think it is or what you say it is,” said ASU co-chair Simi Ojelade.
The night consisted of skits, traditional dances from several African countries and a game of Kahoot, a form of trivia, asking a variety of questions about Africa such as, “Which country in Africa has the largest movie industry?” and “Which African country hosts the largest number of refugees?”
ASU members lightheartedly portrayed some of the struggles of being first-generation African Americans through skits. Actors recreated situations of their parents meeting their significant other, finding out about body piercings and getting an A-minus grade on a test. Each situation ended with a parent taking off their sandal and chasing their child off-stage. ASU co-chairs expressed wanting to poke fun at these experiences and claim them as their own.
“It’s one of the parts of growing up with African parents,” said ASU co-chair Blen Tewodros. “It’s difficult for the parents to get accustomed to the culture and us wanting to go out, or getting an A-minus. This is not to say that it is every African story, they are things we personally felt our parents have pushed on us.”
ASU also sold a variety of traditional Jamaican dishes, including jerk chicken, beef or tofu, rice with red beans and greens.
Preparations for the cultural show began five months in advance to coordinate dance practices, dress rehearsals and costumes.
The Sudanese Dance Group performed a traditional sword dance. Dressed in elaborate and colorful garments, female dancers moved around the stage, shaking their shoulders, while holding swords.
A second group performed two dances from different Ethiopian and Eritrean tribes, as well as a ceremonial wedding dance. The dancers were dressed in variations of white embroidered dresses.
The event ended with a fashion show of ASU members wearing traditional attire from Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries. Some outfits were very traditional and reflected the culture of each country. Others were more modern and paired with jeans.
Models strutted down the stage and posed for pictures to a combination of current and traditional African music, showcasing the unique and diverse culture of each country in an effort to demonstrate that there is more to Africa than what is commonly portrayed by media.
Members of ASU, such as emcee Lewis Odiase, expressed the desire that students leave with a different and broader understanding of the life and people of Africa.
“A lot of the way media portrays Black people and Africans, like if you’re from Africa you live in a hut, or if you’re Black all you do is rap,” said third-year and emcee Lewis Odiase. “We want to portray them in a correct and accurate light, show all the things we have in our culture [and] actually understand that what media portrays is not the truth and see just how beautiful our culture really is.”