Otter Talk highlights African and Undocumented social justice

The Associated Students of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) hosted Otter Talk, which was an informational discussion about activism, culture and more. This Friday’s Otter Talk featured two speakers and focused on social justice. 

The first speaker was Professor Umi Vaughan, who is a scholar and artist that studies the meaning and evolution of dance throughout the African Diaspora. He is also an associate professor of Africana Studies at CSUMB, as well as a published author. 

Beginning his part of the talk, Vaughan said he “noticed the power of music to go as far as actually save lives.” 

“It can also transform everyday spaces into sanctuaries, to transform any ground into holy ground,” he said. 

This is especially true in the African diaspora. Vaughan described sacred drums that are wrapped in bata cloth and encrusted in beads and mirrors to the audience. The purpose of these drums and the music they make is to honor the spirits of the Orishas. The participants were shown a video of the rhythmic, ceremonial drumming. Vaughan then moved into discussing the evolution of samba music into different variations. 

He explained that Batucada is one such subcategory of Samba. This style was popularized in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the 1930s. Samba Afro, also known as Samba reggae, was developed in the 1970s in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. This type of music and dance is considered to be a combination of the samba duro of Rio de Janeiro, as well as the Orisha rhythm made by the Yoruba descendants in Brazil. 

Samba Afro has roots in Black pride and protest, as well as being inspired by the African American civil rights movement in the United States. It was also inspired by Bob Marley and Jamaican reggae and African liberation struggles such as the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. Within the city of Salvador, organizations known as blocos afros provided space for Samba Afro and musical expression. 

Ile Aiye is the carnival block in the Curuzu/Liberdade neighborhood. “Ile Aiye represents Black pride, celebrates African aesthetics and teaches about African diaspora history and culture in their songs,” Vaughan said. 

The purpose of this carnival is to center the Black experience of Brazil and draw attention to the Bahian Black community. Only Black people can belong and participate as official members of these carnivals. 

“The intention of the organizers is not to exclude whites out of hate, but to emphasize the beauty within black culture,” Vaughan said. “When anti-Black racism no longer exists, this symbolic policy will change.”

Vaughan transitioned to discuss the New Orleans tradition of dancing, explaining it as having originated from the traditions of West and Central Africans who were transported to colonial Louisiana during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

A major aspect of the African influence is rejoicing with the community and with the dead as they are laid to rest. They created ways of taking care of and honoring themselves. Mutual aid and pleasure societies were created to share resources and care for each other. 

Jazz had and will always have a heavy influence on New Orleans culture. Jazz funerals are street celebrations to honor the deceased. Vaughan said the makeup of a jazz funeral procession and shared an example of one such procession. The first line consists of the musicians, and the second line is made up of the family and friends of the deceased. Jazz funerals are meant to be a celebration of the deceased, and bring to the streets the same joy that the deceased brought to those in their lives. 

Vaughaun then danced while singing “Black Lives Matter” and ended on the note that Black music traditions heal and create joy. 

“Experience what it’s like to be saved by the groove,” he said.

Third-year student Cennemi Diaz was the next speaker. She is a cinematic arts major and is the Undocu-Success student assistant as well as the Inter Club Council Executive Board secretary. 

Her favorite film is the Matrix, which she saw as a child. She described it as being “not only revolutionary in Hollywood,” but also as a form of art that transcended symbolic meaning into philosophical realms. She shared a clip of the film in which the main character Neo tells Morpheus that he doesn’t like the idea of not being in control of his life. She bridged this clip with the plight of undocumented immigrants trying to take control of their own lives. 

“I think it shows an unfathomable degree of love and bravery, that someone was willing to swim across rivers and go beyond borders to give their children opportunities that they weren’t able to have,” Diaz said.

She brought up the popular mentality of parents doing everything they can to keep their kids safe. “Our parents did just that.” 

Diaz talked about her experience being undocumented. “It wasn’t until high school that I realized how different I was from the other students.” She wanted a work permit, and in order to obtain one she had to complete an arduous process, which included a hefty $200 application fee, as well as the $500 due to the federal government. 

She explained what Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is and clarified some misconceptions about the program. One fact she provided about undocumented folks is that 4.5 million native-born US citizens have at least one parent who is undocumented. She also stressed that not all undocumented immigrants are Latinx. Some undocumented immigrants “stop out” of school, which is when they cease attendance due to not having the resources or support to continue their education. 

Diaz had a teacher explain that social justice issues have not always been as prevalent as they are today because people disassociate with issues that don’t directly affect them. She stressed that people should care because these issues are so complex. Moving forward, she emphasized the importance of being an active ally. She shared that there are three major ways to do this: promote sanctuary policies, accompany immigrants to ICE check-ins and participate in “know your rights” trainings. 

“No matter who is president, everyone living in the U.S. has certain basic rights under the U.S. constitution. This includes undocumented immigrants,” Diaz said. 

Diaz mentioned that CSUMB is hosting an undocu-ally know your rights training on Nov. 18 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. This event can be registered for on the Undocu-Success Support page. “We need to be outspoken about and educate others on what’s important to know about undocumented and documented people,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of community responsibility. Diaz reminded people to dream big no matter what one’s circumstances are. 

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