The sound of rattles, drums and rhythmic singing carried across the campus. Chairman of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe,Tony Cerda, in a red vest, woven red and black hat and feathers in hand, lead the group as they danced across the lawn.
Some were in traditional dress with black and white stripes decorating their bodies and faces. Their music blended with breeze, moving through the tree branches above. The scent of burning sage was in the air.
Cerda was on campus along with other members of his tribe to participate in the Mt. SAC Culture Fair, organized by the Associated Students. The fair took place on the patio and lawn outside building 9C–the Student Life Center–from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday, April 26.
Cerda said it’s important for people to share and understand each other’s culture, because people need to study history to understand how and why things happened. It would be an understatement to say Cerda’s people have suffered serious consequences from cultural misunderstandings as explorers from the new world came into their lands.
“When the Spaniards came, it was a culture clash,” Cerda said. “They didn’t understand our culture. They didn’t understand our language, and we didn’t understand theirs.”
Cerda spoke softly, but when he spoke, people listened intently. His reputation and standing preceded him. Students kept coming up to him to shake his hand and introduce themselves. They would almost bow, treating him with reverence. “It’s an honor to meet you,” they would say.
While Cerda’s people trace their origins to California’s central coast, he grew up in Pomona, where there is a park that bears his name. He recalled visiting Mt. SAC as a young man in 1947 with his Boy Scout troop, when there “were just a few trailers here” and none of the large buildings that are here today.
"It's very important for us to come to events like this to show people that we're still here," Cerda said. "A lot of people study and learn about [Native American History] in school, and they think we're extinct, but we're still here. That's why it's important for us to come and share our culture."
Over on the patio, a large crowd surrounded the the booth of the Mt. SAC Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán MEChA.
Studio arts major and club officer Hector Campos, 19, addressed those gathered around MEChA's booth, He spoke about the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico and the insufficient federal response, but he emphasized they were also here to celebrate its culture and share some traditional food from the island.
They passed out samples of a Puerto Rican dessert they said had been "made with love." The baked dish had a rich golden brown top and a pale yellow interior. It was seemed to be very much like a baked egg custard or flan, but the texture was firmer and somewhat cake-like. It was moist and rich and just lightly sweet. You could feel the love.
MEChA general meetings are held on Thursdays, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in building 26A, room 2821.
The Culture Shock Club was also on hand.
Jennifer Wilson, 43, sociology major, has been a member of Culture Shock for two semesters. She joined to get more involved in sociology studies and learn more about other cultures.
She said club members had taken samba lessons to prepare for the event, but they abandoned plans include samba at the fair. They opted instead decorate their table with Brazilian carnival masks.
“At our meetings, we explore other cultures whether it be through food, through dance, or arts and crafts,” Wilson said. “We meet every week, and every week we learn about a new culture.”
She said the club is a lot of fun, but it’s not just about enjoyment. They also make contributions through community service. They recently partnered with another organization to put together hygiene kits for members of the homeless population in downtown Los Angeles on Skid Row.
Culture Shock Club meets weekly in Building 26D, room 2230 at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays.
“We always have food. Everybody brings food,” Wilson said.
Some clubs had games for people to try. The Japanese Language Club had set up a couple games for people to enjoy, including a traditional game called scooping goldfish. Floaty toys were substituted in place of the goldfish, so no goldfish were harmed during the Culture Fair.
In the divisive social and political times we find ourselves in, its a nice change of pace to celebrate and learn about other cultures, even if it was only for a few hours on a Thursday afternoon.
Doug de Wet is the features editor of SAC.Media and a collector of words, ideas, sounds, flavors, and forms. He is suffering from existential dread, extreme self reflexivity, and the questioning of grand narratives.