Story by Mia UhunmwuanghoPhoto courtesy of the African Students Association
For African students at the University of Texas at Austin, the phrase “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is easier said than done. There will always be some level of cultural disconnect as they tip-toe across the fine line of being “too African,” or “not American enough.” It’s the epic struggle of wanting to fit in, while trying not to lose the one thing that makes you different. For so long, it seemed that African students were faced with only two options: forsake their African culture and assimilate into American culture or be labeled an outcast for choosing to be African. But by creating the Fest Africa program, the African Students Association at UT attempts to show that it doesn’t always have to be one or the other.
Fest Africa is an annual, one-day celebration of African culture that encompasses the beauty of traditional Africa with a modern twist. The event, taking place on Saturday, will feature a key piece of African culture in focuses such as dance, food, music, fashion, art and drama, while maintaining a modern element. For example, the fashion show will feature traditional African fabrics and textiles, but with new styles. The merging of old patterns with new styles helps bridge the chasm between traditionalism and modernity.
The president of the African Students Association, Ebe Emeanuru, says it’s important not to limit African culture by presenting it as a battle between the past and the present. “The beauty of any culture is the way it grows and becomes more dynamic over time. We shouldn’t just put ourselves in a box; we can represent our culture in so many ways,” Emeanuru says. “There’s more to Africa that what it seems, and we do have a lot in common with Western culture.”
To many of the students participating, being a part of Fest Africa is an opportunity to showcase the culture that they once fought so hard to hide. Jennifer Eze, an African Students Association dancer who will be performing in the festival, says that it wasn’t easy being a cultural minority in high school. Eze has been dancing since she was six years old, but she never spoke about her culture at school because she didn’t think anyone would understand. However, the bond she’s formed with her African classmates at UT has broken this silence. “It’s like we’ve formed our own little family. We all dressed up on Nigeria’s independence day and ate meat pies and had a little party. I remember thinking, ‘Whoa, I never would’ve done this in high school,’” Eze says. “Fest Africa is our way of showing the bond that we’ve created, and we want to share that with everyone at UT. It’s been hidden for too long.”
This year’s theme is “Homecoming,” and it aims to capture the bond, the cultural disconnect and the battle between modernity and traditionalism. Fest Africa is meant to redefine the struggle that so many African students feel by shining a light on the beauty of diversity. It’s a testament not just to African cultures, but all cultures, as well, that the struggles we face can be overcome if we fight them together. The African Students Association’s event coordinator, Bianca Remmie, says that this year’s theme is about bringing students back to their roots, and making them proud of where they came from. “We’re going to put away the negative connotations of Africa and show what Africa is really about,” Remmie says. “We want to show that no matter what struggle you’ve been through because of your African heritage, Africa will always be your home.”
Fest Africa will take place at 7 p.m. on November 8 at UT's Main Mall. For more information about Fest Africa, visit utexas.wix.com/asa, and follow the African Students Association on Twitter @UTASA.