UC Santa Barbara’s Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian Resource Center and MultiCultural Center hosted their first Queer and Trans Asian, Pacific Islander, South and Southwest Asian, North African Cultural Potluck on May 13 in the Student Resource Building.

The event, hosted at the Student Resource Building, served to create a safe space for queer and trans people of color while celebrating their different heritages. Daily Nexus File Photo

Held during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the potluck closed out the Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian (MENASA) culture week. Luna Grill, Masala Spice Indian Cuisine and student contributors catered the event, providing samosas, falafels, mango lassi, mochi and miso brown-butter cookies. 

The event served to create a safe space for queer and trans people of color while celebrating their different heritages within a casual setting, according to third-year political science major and MENASA Resource Center Peer Mentor Kiyan — who chose to not share their last name for privacy concerns. 

“This event is the first of its kind. We really wanted to highlight the queer and trans people who exist within our spaces because there’s such a dearth of visibility for people like us,” they said. “There are not many centers that are dedicated for people of MENASA heritage, and there also aren’t many visible queer spaces for people of color, so we really wanted to hold this event just to celebrate our identities in a really casual setting.”

Kiyan said sharing food with one another is one of the most mindful ways groups can cultivate a cross-cultural exchange and foster community.

“Food is such an incredible illustration of one’s culture. I can find kinship with it anywhere,” they said. “Cultural exchange through food is one of the most passive yet mindful ways that we could cultivate community amongst each other. For me, whenever I like to cook my own cultural cuisines, it just feels like a reflection of my own identity.”

Ashkon Molaei, Educational Opportunity Program counselor and MENASA Resource Center coordinator, said exchanging food can not only be a point of connection between communities but also provide an opportunity to learn more about other cultures.

“[Sharing food is] a very central component to how communities form and practice any kinds of rituals because food is a very integral part of festivals of many cultural occasions. It’s also a key part of how we start to learn a little bit more and get a little peek into and initiate contact with other cultures,” Molaei said. “It can be a great point of learning more about a culture and to make contacts with communities that they may otherwise not have encountered or been able to access.”

In addition to sharing one’s culture with others, the event served as a space for individuals to reconnect with their own communities of belonging, according to Molaei.

“Having an event that’s centered around food is also a great way for us to be in a context of where we’re all currently away from our communities of belonging. It’s a chance for us to kind of establish that connection with our own heritage and cultures,” Molaei said. “It’s a great way for us to connect with our own communities and then to be able to come and share as a community and as an intersection or moment of solidarity across multiple communities of color.”

Molaei added that cultural potlucks can be a starting point for future collaborations with other campus departments to provide visibility for queer and trans people of color and to embrace their respective cultures and identities.

“Cultural potlucks can be a really good launching point for future collaborations with other campus departments,” he said. “Both the [Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity] RCSGD and the MENASARC really want to continue to explore this relationship of providing greater visibility to our shared communities, particularly [the] bringing together of queer [and] trans folks of color, especially in the context that not only acknowledge and center their identities and perspectives but also can celebrate a cultural heritage that we all come to this campus with and want to embrace on our campus.”

Molaei said there is a struggle for visibility on campus for queer and trans people of color, making events like the cultural potluck necessary to create safer spaces on campus.

“In terms of our campus obligations for creating safer spaces for underrepresented students, I think that’s part of the big need for these kinds of events. When we’re talking about queer [and] trans folks, it’s so easy for our communities to be double marginalized, especially when we’re talking about queer [and] trans POC,” he said. “In communities of color, there is already a struggle for visibility within the American context, so we do need more efforts in creating safer spaces and inclusive spaces and visible spaces on campus.”

“I really hope that this event has that kind of clear messaging and visibility that we want to have spaces that bring together multiple communities,” Molaei continued. “It’s really about helping to create more potential for students to understand all of our cultures, communities of color and the different identities that make up the overall collection of peoples that comprise each of our communities.”

UPDATE [05/30/2022, 4:04 p.m.]: RCSGD Office Assistant Resh — who only disclosed their first name due to privacy concerns — was integral to the fruition of this potluck.