On Saturday, March 4, the Ethnic Studies Now! Coalition of Santa Barbara hosted an all-day, all-ages “block party” at La Casa de la Raza. The day was jam-packed with educational workshops, student art and music, and vendors rallying around the importance of community, democracy, and diversity. Marcus Lopez, one of the free event’s leaders, stated it was “all youth driven and created.” La Casa De La Raza was happy to provide the space.
The day kicked off at 12:30 p.m., with Lopez hosting a Chumash-inspired opening ceremony. Attendees were there to come together, he said, to recognize one another and to no longer let differences such as race and gender divide them. Lopez commended the youth, stating that they are “so important to our survival. … They are the hope.” This collective spirit and community is what led to the creation of La Casa de la Raza, he stated, reminding the students that they are the leaders of the future.
The day included several workshops covering topics such as the importance of ethnic studies, self-defense, and knowing your rights. Music began around 5:30 p.m., featuring local talent performing late into the evening. There were tables for creating poetry and art, as well.
The Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) had a table, and Ethnic Studies Now! ― which advocates for making ethnic studies a graduation requirement in the Santa Barbara Unified School District ― supplied their own merchandise. There were several other vendors addressing various causes, ranging from eating disorder education and body positivity, to La Casa’s new community-based radio station, KZAAA, launching on March 26.
The crowd was on the smaller side, but the point was not the size of the gathering, Lopez stated ― it was to provide students with the space and support to celebrate as a community. The students were able to work hard to create something that really mattered to them and then enjoy the fruits of their labors; mingling with adults who could be strong role models was also important, Lopez stated. Gray Wolf of the American Indian Movement of Southern California stated that the elders were there “to support the youth” however they could.
Ethnic Studies Now! formed because of an obvious need for a more inclusive curriculum in schools, Lopez continued. As of now, Santa Barbara Unified offers several ethnic studies courses, but as electives, they are not transferrable. This means many students cannot take them or have no incentive too.
Studies have shown, Lopez stated, that when students aren’t represented in their education, they lose motivation, don’t perform as well, and can be encouraged to drop out. The coalition has struggled to be heard by the school district, he stated, so it hosted Saturday’s event to reach the general population. Organizers hoped it would generate more community involvement and support through donations.