Kaitlin McCoskey – Staff Writer
As the holidays draw nearer, people everywhere are preparing to celebrate their own holidays with their own unique traditions. On Thursday, December 2, the Pan Afrikan Student Organization (PASO) hosted a Kwanzaa celebration for the Gustavus student body. Among the planners for this event were board members Vanessa Kiriago, Bella Nduwayezu, and Wendy Nyachwaya, and they shared their experiences in PASO and in planning Kwanzaa.
Senior Vanessa Kiriago is one of the co-presidents of PASO.
She explained that “Kwanzaa is a holiday primarily celebrated by African-Americans. I believe it’s celebrated between December 25 and January 1. It’s a holiday where people come together, eat, just kind of spend time together as a family.”
She continued to explain the seven principles of Kwanzaa and their meanings, jokingly adding after pulling up the Kwanzaa celebration powerpoint “I can’t lie to you, I don’t know all seven”. The seven principles include Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).
Kiriago explained that these principles, in Swahili, provide a guidance for life for those who celebrate Kwanzaa. She explained that Kwanzaa is a Swahili word as well, meaning “first” or “first foods”, adding “I speak Swahili, so that’s why it’s easier to see where the words are coming from.” Kiriago shared that during the Kwanzaa event, each student got a candle, and the seven candles of Kwanzaa were lit, each one symbolizing a principle of the holiday.
Kiriago said her favorite part of hosting Kwanzaa was seeing the performances and talent of the members of PASO and the guest performers, saying “that was beautiful to see. We had Kareem, who’s the assistant director in the Center [for Inclusive Excellence], he performed one of his songs. We had one of our board members also sing.” Professor Phillip Bryant performed a poem at the event as well, along with other current Gustavus students and Alumni alike. Kiriago said “It was just very entertaining and cool to see people coming together and celebrating. It turned out really well, and I’m really proud of everyone.”
Juniors Bella Nduwayezu and Wendy Nyachwaya were the co-chairs in planning Kwanzaa. Both of them worked hard to bring the celebration to life, and Nduwayezu said “me and Wendy, what we did was to plan, ‘okay, the program is going to be like this, we need food, we need to invite people, give out tasks,’” while also adding that “as co-chairs it’s not like we were doing it alone. We have lots of people [in PASO] to brainstorm with and tell our ideas. We also have amazing co-presidents.” Nduwayezu said this was her first time organizing this event, and she couldn’t pick a favorite part; “It was all so beautiful, honestly!”. She also explained the purpose of hosting a Kwanzaa celebration at Gustavus, saying
“Some people may be celebrating Kwanzaa at home. But now we’re at Gustavus, this is home. So we’re making all those things we do at home here. At the same time, it was not only for PASO people. We invited our friends, and for people who don’t know what Kwanzaa is, it was a great time to learn about that culture.”
Nyachwaya also shared her experience planning Kwanzaa. “It’s refreshing to put effort into something and see it become something big. So that made me feel accomplished to put up an event and have it be successful” Nyachwaya said. She shared that it was a challenge to plan something so big for the first time, to find a location, to host it during the busyness of Christmas in Christ Chapel. “It is a lot [of work], but I’m proud!” Nyachwaya said. “I’ve been in PASO since my freshman year. I’ve learned quite a lot from being an active member, and now being on the board I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills,” Nyachwaya said.
Overall, PASO’s Kwanzaa celebration was a success. But their events are far from over; co-president Kiriago shared that Africa night will be coming up in March, an event for all students at Gustavus to celebrate African culture. Nduwayezu says “That’s definitely a night to not miss!” The board members shared that PASO meetings are every Monday night, from 8 to 9 pm, and all three of them encouraged Gusties of all backgrounds to join. “PASO is welcoming to all. Our purpose is to share our culture and make people aware of our beliefs, and to form allyship between not only people of color, but everyone else included,” Nyachwaya said.