With spring comes UC Davis’ annual festivals and culture weeks, which mix the educational with the celebratory: swirling traditional Mexican dance and hip-hop, fashion and film, and food from kimchi to fry bread.
Some of the marquee events for the public include Asian Pacific Culture Night, the UC Davis Powwow, the Danzantes del Alma dance show, La Gran Tardeada and Black Family Day.
On the heels of those smaller events come the big two: the Whole Earth Festival and, ready or not, Picnic Day.
Some of the culture weeks that have long since become traditions themselves began when groups of students banded together to make something of their own on campus.
Black Family Day, for instance, started in 1969 as a barbecue on the Quad attended by 40 or 50 people.
It began as an alternative to Picnic Day, of which black students didn’t feel a part, Sacramento State University government professor Stan Oden said during an alumni event in 2009.
Andrea Gaytan, the assistant director of the UCD Cross Cultural Center, said the culture weeks are a “matter of pride and celebration of our presence here, of perseverance for many of the groups who’ve seen growth and change. I think it’s a time to celebrate the presence of underrepresented students on campus.”
All of the events are meant to be inclusive, and each year students find inventive ways to reach out to one another. This year, for instance, Asian Pacific Culture Week’s culminating show will open with Chinese dancing to the rhythm of Japanese taiko drums.
The same event also will feature a special first-of-its-kind performance when students from the Hmong Student Union and Vietnamese Student Association will dance with the folkórico dance troupe Danzantes del Alma.
Program coordinator Fong Tran said it’s been fun to see student dancers in meetings have ah-ha moments of inspiration — when they discover common movements or the use of fans in Vietnamese and Mexican dances.
The culture weeks, Tran said, are “an institutional way of investing in the diversity of the campus, a reminder to build bridges; but they also pay homage to the unique cultures and the contributions of people of color on campus.”
Some of the very same celebrations began as struggles.
Gaytan knows that well.
In 1992, she joined classmates at UCD in a hunger strike that resulted in the creation of the Cross Cultural Center, which now serves thousands of students annually.
Having taught English at home and abroad, Gaytan returned to campus and her present job, pleased to see what devoted students, staff and administrators built.
“It’s very fulfilling,” she said. “The Cross Cultural Center is better than I ever imagined it could be. I think of the staff who believed in the center and created a safe space for students who’ve come through the door, slept on its couches and taken advantage of its programs.”
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden