Welcome to Earth. We have 196 countries, roughly 6,500 languages and about 7.3 billion humans. If you want to understand where you fall in this spectrum of human existence, you are going to need to formulate an identity. An identity is made up of a name, age, gender, sexual preference, culture, religion, ethnicity, occupation and much more! Once you establish an identity, be prepared for extensive interrogation. Here in the United States of America, we are the third most populous country in the world. Our racially and ethnically diverse population has been called a “melting pot.” Would you like to join our melting pot? Please leave your identity at the door.
As the world becomes more connected, cultural boundaries fade. Fusing together all nationalities, ethnicities and cultures undeniably breaks down the boundaries that uphold separation, but at what cost? The vision of a harmonious whole where differences are overshadowed by unity seems ideal, yet critics of assimilation feel otherwise.
If I put on an ancestral headdress, can I pretend I’m a native? The short answer to this question is no. The long answer to this question is: Headdresses are reserved for native elders that practice honorability and leadership. Wearing a headdress to be stylish is disrespectful. When sacred practices are flagrantly disrespected, we are left wondering whether or not solidarity is possible.
Lucidity is a transformational music and arts festival held in Santa Barbara annually. The theme of this year’s event was “Kindred Quest,” which invites participants to question, “How do we live in the world in right relationship with each other and the planet?” The festival strives to create a safe space, where various cultures are brought together to tell stories, exchange knowledge and develop new perspectives.
Outreach Coordinator for UCSB’s Persian Group Leilani Riahi details her far from pleasant experience at this year’s event in her article “The Whiteness of Lucidity” (published in the Daily Nexus Opinion section on 4/16/15). While Lucidity’s values promote compassion and global healing, Riahi felt that the event propagated modern racism. When Riahi arrived at the event, she encountered two individuals that began slurring racist microaggressions after finding out her ethnicity.
“‘OH, Persians throw the best weddings. Man, you guys know how to party. But you’re mean. You’re all so entitled!’ they snicker. Without a pause for effect, the first white male starts chanting, ‘Jasmine! Jasmine! Aladdin! Aladdin! Jasmine! Jaaassmineee!!’ I ask where they’re from. He aggressively exclaims, ‘I’m from America, now where do YOU live?’”
This is “whiteness” defined by Riahi as “a culture of cultural appropriation, white supremacy and modern racism.” While I feel that each individual should be judged by the content of their own character, I get it. As a white American, I acknowledge that there are certain benefits that are often denied or overlooked. As a global studies major, I’ve learned that there is a certain ignorance maintained by those unwilling to address the problem of inequality. Rather than reacting defensively, I’ve decided to unconditionally lend my hand beyond my comfort zone.
For the past five months, I have been working as Lucidity’s communications intern through UCSB’s art department. Becoming involved with the festival’s inner workings gave me an inside look at the people involved in the event’s production and the company’s relationship with our local community. Village coordinator of Lucidity’s Warrior’s Way Tatiana De Guzman comments: “While I understand and sympathize with her feelings of not finding spaces and individuals to identify with in a foreign environment, I am a direct contradiction to her sharp criticisms. ‘Where were the women leaders? The women of color leaders?’ Here I am. I was missed. I am a Filipina American, I am a woman of color, a leader in the Lucidity community and UCSB graduate whose studies, like Leilani’s, also focused on philosophy and psychology … I don’t believe the four hours Leilani spent at Lucidity was a large enough sample experience for her to find the conscious community she sought, because we are here.”
After reading Riahi’s article, I sympathized with her experience, but disagreed with her opinion on Lucidity, so I invited her out for coffee. After an extremely productive conversation, we brainstormed solutions to the problems addressed in her article:
- Connecting Lucidity with UCSB’s MultiCultural Center and inviting ambassadors from different ethnic groups to teach workshops at the event. Riahi explained that, as someone who is not closely affiliated with the community, she was unaware of the opportunities Lucidity provides for voices to be heard.
- Developing sensitivity training workshops on campus that outline the difference between “cultural appropriation” and respecting another culture’s values. Lucidity’s Guardianship Training Program provides counseling and support during the event, where community volunteers can be spotted through their Guardian badges. They are stationed in every village throughout the festival.
- Offering workshops or events on campus before the festival lead by student volunteers, teaching students how to get involved and attend Lucidity affordably. For example, the I.V. Food Co-op offers a “How to feel full on a budget” workshop. As someone who’s never been to a festival, she felt lost on how to prepare and was unaware that Lucidity offered volunteer opportunities and low-income tickets.
What do you do when you encounter a problem? You break it down to the roots, practice constructive contemplation and brainstorm solutions. During our conversation, Riahi explained that what was worse than her experience was the racist and sexist comments she received online from “Defenders of Lucidity.” As everyone is entitled to their opinion, those fighting for change should realize that fighting fire with fire only perpetuates a cycle of hate. As someone who feels passionately about what Lucidity has done for our community, I had two choices of how to respond to her article. Deciding to reach out and connect with Riahi ended with both of us being able to share our thoughts and learn from each other. Turns out, we were much more in tune than we had imagined.
The problem being presented will need to be faced by our generation. If we can’t learn to connect with each other, we’ll never be able to overcome what keeps us divided. While certain cultural practices are not meant to be shared with everyone, there are other ways for us to feel connected. During my internship with Lucidity, I spent time volunteering at the Isla Vista Food Co-op’s Sunflower Kid’s Club teaching children how to make instruments out of recycled art supplies. I helped set up an installation and lounge space at The Catalyst’s launch party to invite people to share their stories. I collaborated on an art installation to produce life-size lanterns for the Warrior’s Way village. All of these activities transcend cultural divides, inviting members of Lucidity’s community which encourages people to befriend each other through shared interests.
The purpose of this article is to address a problem, present an event that I feel has positively impacted our society in a new light and to invite you to be proactive in rebuilding our community. Isla Vista has experienced hardships in the past few years that signal disconnection. If we are going to grow both as individuals and as a community, now is the time for us to stand in solidarity.