May 7, 2016 was not your average Pan-African cultural fete. On that day, ancestors were honored in a commemorative spectacle truly befitting of honorable mention.
Allow me to muckrake the significance of the Pan-African fete that was the first of its kind in San Antonio. There is not much certainty in declaring this fete the first ever, since much of the history of the Pan-African movement in San Antonio remains largely undocumented. Generally, I have come to understand the truest essence of Pan-Africanism, an indigenous movement that emphasizes the repatriation of Africans throughout the Diaspora, as akin to that of the revolution not being televised. I hold high the assumption that, throughout the world, festivities celebrating African ancestry go remotely unacknowledged by Western media as these celebrations are not as popularized by eurocentric cultural proclamation and are commonly relegated to folklore, a sort of philosophical intellectualism that is expressed by oral storytelling and mythos.
Folklore is a critical aspect of society that which creates and recreates unspoken norms, introduces the intersectionality of culture and truths and (hopefully) builds the respect and curiosity for difference in the interest of inclusion and mutual admiration. In actuality, though, the act of derivation to folklore in its most tangible forms (music, dance and food) is a political act, lending the act itself uncomfortable, open to criticism and personally challenging. Because in folklore, the tripartite of knowledge is sometimes justified and believed but not always true. Because in folklore, truth is multivariate and inclusive of difference.
Ai Weiwei once said that any question of reality, truth or facts will always be a political act. In an attempt to reclaim and remember what has long been written out of history and therefore retained through folklore, the Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio boldly endeavored to reintroduce and galvanize the African experience throughout the Diaspora (the world’s largest forced migration of any people), namely the Middle Passage. The fete was hosted by the Carver Branch Library and the proceeds were donated to the Friends of the Carver Branch Library in support of efforts to increase readership and encourage the conscious community to frequent the Carver for events that infuse the memory, significance and proper commemoration of the black experience in San Antonio. A check for nearly $500 was presented during the KwanzaaSA’s Message to the People: A Story of Malcolm X to the Friends of the Carver Branch Library on Saturday, May 14 for their support and stewardship to increase literacy and reclaim knowledge of the black experience in San Antonio.
At 11 a.m., the festival began with the pouring of libations and permission of the elders in attendance to proceed, in blessing and respect, with the program for the day of festivities. Immediately thereafter was an hour of community conversations, moderated by KwanzaaSA’s Baba Aundar Martin, featuring an astute panel of elders, each selected in advance to speak about their experiences as an African, especially in the places that they have lived. Several of the panelists reported having lived in more than seven countries and countless numbers of cities and states therein throughout their lifetimes. The conversation that ensued was extremely telling of the similarities that each of the elders had in language, heritage, food and music; though, the spoken differences were even more telling and engaging.
For me, the "aha moment" of the community conversation took place during the discussion about blackness and who among the panelists considered themselves black prior to relocating to the USA. The question, I believe, framed blackness into a regional perspective, where it drew attention to the trivial nature of race in other parts of the world, which thereby drew attention to the function of race outside of the USA, ultimately reminding us of the heterogeneity of the Pan-Africanists’ approach to unifying black people throughout the world. Pan-Africanists like George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey and Thomas Sankara were visionaries that approached reclamation in epistemology, environmental justice and spiritual being. Their approach to Pan-Africanism, like that of the differences in Afrocentrism, strengthen the core of the Pan-African movement. Folklore with many tributaries leads us to the same wharf on the way to the tide that uplifts and improves the living conditions of African peoples throughout the world, with specific focus on those inhabitants of the African continent, in homage to our fallen and their steel-wrought manacles that chained their bodies but not their souls.
At about 12:45 p.m., the community conversations came to a close and festival participants were encouraged to partake in activities outdoors. The vendors that were in attendance offered everything from black comic books (written by black artists and featuring black heroes) to beard butter, kente cloths and daishikis, and banana-flavored dokon from Benin. There were several amazing performances celebrating the richness of the African experience like the jaw-dropping dance of Capoeira Luanda and the African Drum Circle dance of the Tribe of Umoja/Unity Queens. Mondrea Harmon, Nwanediya Chinedu Orji Okele and Nakita Reddic-McClure graced the audience with spoken word and poetry that invoked critical thought and reflection. Like-Minded Entertainment performed a few lyrical crowd-pleasers that were truly befitting of the event. Children were running up to drum players like Mr. Milton Wilson and T-Bow Gonzales to play and gain some familiarity with the rhythms of the conga, djembe, djun djun drums and percussion. Others were enjoying the face painting tent where they were decorated with tribal markings and symbology that honored concepts, adages and legendary tales of gallant and brave ancestors from West Africa.
For these reasons and many more, the Inaugural Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio was a true spectacle and treat. In all of its diversity and inclusion, the fete brought together descendants of Pan-African meta-ethnic cultural movements that usually do not interact. In its meta-ethnic deftness, the Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio made familiar foes in thought and practice come together in commonality, Pan-Africanism and for a worthy cause of improvement, reclamation and repatriation of African peoples throughout the globe.
Here’s to the continued success of the Pan-African Cultural Festival in San Antonio and its planning leadership for bringing awareness to the need to continue to carve out space for remembrance and commemoration in celebrations of African culture and folklore.