Culture and Cuisine Creates ‘Culturescape’

The Hawaiian Dance Ensemble was all smiles during their performance, just like their audience. Left to right: Suzanne Salazar, Katelyn Lee, Kaylee Lota, Cassidy Chung, Rea Corpuz, Tiana Blanco. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOVANN M. VISAL

The alluring aroma of dumplings, kabobs, and sweet beignets filled the air over campus last Friday. A line of eager students, faculty, and families trailed from McClaren to Cowell as they waited in line for a night of food, student performances, and cultural unity at “Culturescape.”

The event, hosted by the International Student Association (ISA) and International Student and Scholar Services (ISS), showcases USF’s diverse community through food and performances. 

Approximately 400 people attended with their loved ones and brought their appetites and energy for the night. Stands from various cultural organizations serving traditional foods were lined up in street-market style. 

Attendees paid for entrance to the event in advance and were given a ticket with five punches that could be used at any of the stands. Guests munched on foods ranging from Japanese takoyaki and El Salvadorian pupusas to Senegalese chicken yassa and Filipino roasted lechon.

While some took advantage of their food passes, others gathered near the stage for student performances from ASUSF Voices, VarCity, Folklórico de USF, Hawaiian Ensemble, the Indian Student Organization, Kasamahan, Khandaan, and the African Student Association and Eritrean Student Association.

ASUSF Voices sent a powerful message to the audience with their rendition of the chilling Ukrainian song “Oi u Luzi Chervona Kalyna.” Stepan Sharmesky composed the song in 1914 in honor of the Sich Riflemen of World War I. The song is now associated with Ukrainian resistance to Russian invasion and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

USF’s hip-hop dance team, VarCity, electrified the room as they stepped out to Tupac’s “California Love” in coordinated black and gray attire. Hitting Bay Area dances like the “cat daddy” and the “smeeze,” VarCity encompassed the energy of the West Coast and left the crowd screaming as they exited the stage. 

Standing in front of Kasamahan’s food stand where they served tofu sisig and an entire roasted lechon, or roasted pig, I spoke to Kasamahan member and fourth-year psychology major, James Paolo Hermogeno. “This event is so important to me because we live in a country that is so discriminatory against minorities,” he said. Hermogeno had mixed feelings about being back at Culturescape. He said, “The last time was in 2017. It’s bittersweet because this is my last one.”

 Kasamahan hugs in celebration of a successful performance.  PHOTO COURTESY OF SOVANN M. VISAL

Iranian Student Union (ISU) member and second-year English major Kiana Mehanian spoke with me in front of the ISU’s popular trays of kabob and saffron rice. “I was really happy to see we were sold out,” she said. “If Iranian students didn’t know we exist or there’s a club for them, they have a place they can come to.”

After an intermission, Folklórico de USF gracefully entered the stage in traditional Mexican attire. In celebration of Día de los Muertos, they wore skeleton makeup on half of their faces. Balancing a candle on each of their heads they danced “La Bruja.”

Vice President of Folklórico and second-year politics major Lidia Velasco-Robles felt inspired after performing at Culturescape alongside other cultural groups. “It feels really empowering knowing we have a space for each culture. We belong in this space and we deliver,” she said. 

USF’s Hawaiian Dance Ensemble performed dances of the traditional Hawaiian ‘ori Tahiti style. They were dressed in blue bandeau tops with matching pa’u, or skirts, and flower crowns on their heads. I caught up with Suzanne Salazar, a third-year kinesiology major, after her performance. “As I was walking on the stage I just felt that energy,” she said. “Walking on stage and hearing that immediate cheer was like ‘Wow, it’s our time to shine.’”

Kasamahan performed a ballroom dance called “Polka Sa Nayon,” or Polka in the Village. Dressed in traditional blouses and skirts, the dancers elegantly moved in pairs with smiles on their faces.

Hermogeno, who performed with Kasahaman, feels that events like Culturescape are imperative for minority communities. “Our ancestors fought blood, sweat, and tears to keep the culture alive.” He added, “Events like this show people what USF is really about.”

Khandaan, USF’s South Asian organization, shared a medley of dances to highlight the diversity of South Asian culture. Rida Jan, a fourth-year biology major and member of Khandaan, felt “honored” to perform at Culturescape as the club is only in its first semester.

Khandaan brought color, grace, and elegance in their performance. Left to right: Suroor Nakhoda, Sadiya Kazani, Rida Jan, Sanya Lansari. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOVANN M. VISAL

The final performance of the night came from the African Student Association (ASA) and Eritrean Student Association (ESA). The two groups came together for a spectacular performance of dances from throughout the African continent.

West and Central African dancers from ASA wore flags and scarves over their pants and skirts as they danced to afrobeats. Then, Eritrean students came out and celebrated Habesha culture through their traditional attire and music.

Bethany Bisrat, member of both associations and second-year data science major, recalls yelling with all members of the ASA, “One, two, three, Africa!” before the performance. “That was definitely a moment when we didn’t care if you’re East, Central or West. We are one Africa,” she said.

ESA and ASA member and second-year nursing major, Ruby Brooke, said “I feel like it brought us together because after our show we were one Africa. I feel more united after sharing our cultures.”

Regardless of if it was their first or last time attending Culturescape, everyone recognized the importance of being in a community that creates space for all cultures and ways of life.

“It’s important to engulf ourselves in other cultures,” said second-year kinesiology major, Jake Gonzaga. “I’m eating all these cultural foods, trying drinks I didn’t know existed. They [the Khmer Student Organization] had this sugar cane drink that was amazing.”

The ISA began planning this year’s Culturescape in 2021 and organized everything with an eight person e-board. Vice President and fourth-year entrepreneurship major, Prairwa Kalayanamit, said “Honestly I got a little emotional. Seeing all the cultures come together, everyone was so excited.”


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