by Erica Kim
“Activism, social justice, community, education, empowerment and diversity,” were plastered not only on the staff’s shirts, but also the hearts on their shoulders as well.
At 10 a.m. last Thursday, staff members and student interns of The Cross Cultural Center at UCI rolled out a tent for their booth as well as button pins, markers, and a board announcing their theme. They were getting ready to hold their 32nd annual Community Roots Festival.
Large banners were hung up in Middle Earth and Mesa Court for weeks to advertise the two-hour event. Foldable poster boards scattered the floors of Ring Road, down from the CCC building toward the Student Center Terrace.
It was truly a colossal challenge. How does one portray the vast communities that exist not only on campus, but also in the entire world, all in two hours? How does one proceed to bring all of these cultures together to echo the theme, “How do you Build Inclusive Communities?”
But the staff seemed calm that morning — well-prepared and well-seasoned. Assistant Director of the CCC Daniel Park sauntered into the tent set up for The Roots Event — a little red, perhaps flustered from running around to align all the preparations under the sun’s brilliant heat that morning. Nonetheless, he and all the staff were poised and ready.
“Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots resounds from the speakers. The Community Roots Festival is up and running 15 minutes before 11 a.m.
This year, there were four campus department vendors, participation from 18 campus organizations and four groups for performances lined up while cultural food was sold on Ring Road.
The Cross Cultural Center’s preparations for the festival were extensive and their hopes for it were just as high.
11:00 am: The prospects looked bleak.
Students passing by the food court seemed too busy moseying off to their classes to care.
People sitting at the food court tables talked over the first performer, a spoken word poet from Uncultivated Rabbits. Two speakers from the Rabbits spoke — one poet rewrote Trump’s speech, and the other spoke about his Muslim heritage. They were such heartfelt words that conveyed deep, potent commentary about the current environment in the U.S., but the only courtesy onlookers gave was a humble clap at the end.
The Community Roots theme board at the CCC booth looked lonely. It had a handful of post-its sprinkled about. They answered the theme, “How do you build inclusive communities?”
11:30 am: Kababayan, a traditional Filipino dance group, caught the eyes of a few bystanders, thanks to their bright clothes and long bamboo poles. They performed Tinikling, which involves two people tapping the poles parallel to the ground while others dancers coordinated their movements over the poles. It must have been the first exposure to a Filipino dance style for many; from their seats, the student audience strained their neck to see the performance.
11:40 am: TaiKomotion demanded attention through their performance. No one could ignore the thumps from their Japanese drum dance. Each pound was so powerful that it felt like a warzone was settling in. It felt like marching. People started to collect around the concrete stage.
But the most dominant influence was by far the UCI African dance group. When they hit the stage, the mood swung from zero to 100. The air was alive, and the heat could not suppress the vivacious spirits of the performers nor the audience.
The stage was surrounded, and people were pulling out their phones to take videos of the dancers. Students were called to dance along, and they did. The mood was lifted with the sound of Congo drums.
The theme board was covered with post-its, end to end.
A passing student who participated in the mob said, “It was fun! I knew about the CCC, but not the Roots Festival.”
Just as quickly as the festival had started, it was over. The emcee announced the open house would begin at the CCC.
What seemed impossible to do, and what seemed to be glum at the start, succeeded. The Cross Cultural Center, along with all the participants, had created a fun legacy for the Community Roots event. For two cherished hours, cultures, campus resources, students — people — got together as a community.
UCI students stopped and stared at the board — and at the performances — and stayed to participate in the open house. From the conversations passed around, to the mere willingness to take time out of their day to spectate, the students at UCI showed that this event meant more to them; the message resonated with them. The event embodied what students strive to receive an education for.
There must be a place in this world for me, and there must be a place in this world for you. How can we build that inclusive community?