El Centro Building 406 is a feverish swell of culture and history; it is also the most ideal place on campus to host a multicultural mixer. This past weekend, the Student Commission on Racial Equality, S.C.O.R.E., hosted a program called “Our Space is Your Space” to bring all the multicultural groups on campus together in one room.
The event featured over 150 people, representation from over 10 different clubs, food, poetry, dancing and good old conversation. A double length table was piled high with all kinds of worldly goodies: chicken tikka masala, basmati rice, jambalaya, dolma, potstickers, grapes, Hawaiian sweet bread, dates and ché, a tasty Vietnamese drink. Different campus organizations helped sponsor the event and brought foods representative of their culture.
“The original purpose of the event was to bring communities of color together,” said Navkiran Kaur, S.C.O.R.E. co-chair. “We wanted to build solidarity and encourage cross cultural collaboration. But we also wanted to raise awareness about the El Centro space.”
El Centro has had a turbulent history. It was originally created as a resource for the Chicano Studies department and housed the Education Opportunity Program, but those facilities have long since been transported to other places on campus. In 1994, Chicano students proclaimed a hunger strike to save the space when its importance was called into question.
Nowadays it is a temporary rundown building that is not on the “long range development plan” for UCSB. Because it is not an aesthetically pleasing fortification for the university, administrative plans to expand Davidson Library and build over El Centro have been under consideration for a long time.
After a short history lecture on El Centro brought by El Congreso, a campus organization that utilizes the building on a daily basis, Kaur hyped up the crowd with some free-wheeling chatter. She called out various cultural organizations by name, proclaiming, “Hey where’s BSU at? Where’s my SJP people at?!”
Food was served, and surprisingly enough, everyone was able to get some. It was really lovely; there was no pushing and shoving even though the room was packed. Everyone shared and everyone got a little bit to eat. It really demonstrated how gracious students can be when they are in a cozy environment.
Once settled in, the festivities began. Kaur, who is a second year global studies major, initiated an hour-long icebreaker for groups to break out into discussion. Groups discussed what diversity meant and why the space was so important.
“I was really touched by the conversation that some of the people had,” said Kaur. “A lot of these people were meeting for the first time, and I hope that they felt as empowered as I did.”
Next came various performances. One student did a Bollywood routine, fourth year BSU member George Jefferson read an inspiring poem he wrote about Martin Luther King Jr., and the Arab Student Group, clad in colorful jingle skirts, belly-danced. Many students came up to the microphone and read poetry from their iPhones.
Several students came to the center of the room and proceeded to teach different cultural dances. Kaur introduced the Bhangra, a folk dance of the Punjab region in India. Sophia Armen, a fourth-year global studies major and our A.S. president, taught an Armenian line dance. Other students came up to try the salsa.
The event, which started at 7:00 p.m., didn’t end until everyone decided to start cleaning up around 11:15 p.m. “It was nice, seeing every come together and clean up. It wasn’t just the S.C.O.R.E. officers,” said Kaur. Even better was the fact that a lot of people stayed the entire four and a half hours of “Our Space is Your Space.” Halfway through, students had texted their friends to come, and El Centro was filled with people bringing more food all night long.
“At first, I was really worried that no one was going to show up, since my friends started cancelling on me,” said Kaur, who had been planning “Our Space is Your Space” since the beginning of Fall Quarter. “But then, so many people arrived! I was overwhelmed by the support.”
Kaur further explained how she had gone to random events last quarter to get people to come and sponsor the event. For her, Facebook invites weren’t going to cut it. “I believe in a one-on-one connection, I will personally seek you out; I kept telling people that I needed them to come.”
Kaur’s dynamism made sure that “Our Space is Your Space” was a definite success. It helped students from various cultures collaborate and network, and brought awareness to one of the most transient places on campus. “We need more real student-run facilities,” said Kaur. “This is something that the administration needs to realize and not bulldozer over.”
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of January 31st, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.