Ethnic and cultural clubs at UCLA

by Natalie Rajha

Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA)

The Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) is an organization for Middle Eastern students or those who would like to learn about cultures in the Middle East, working to create an environment where everyone can connect and support each other. Lana Sami, a fourth-year student majoring in biology, is the external vice president of the MESA club. She describes the club as diverse and open to everyone, saying it is a way “to bridge the gap between people on campus who want to be more in touch with their culture.”

MESA has several events throughout the year, including study sessions and more “chill events” like Dabke night, game nights, picnics, parties and other types of socials that bring everyone together. This month is very special, considering April is National Arab American Heritage Month. Sami described a number of upcoming events like “Tatreez Night” on April 17, with proceeds being donated to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). Other exciting events include a beach bonfire with other universities on April 21, “Dabke Night” on April 23 and a “House of Casablanca” party in collaboration with a few other cultural clubs like the Lebanese Student Association on April 27.

Sami notes that MESA is different this year from years prior, with the club having a stronger presence on campus and gaining sponsorship from a nearby restaurant, Falafel Inc. The club has been able to collaborate with more schools with similar cultural clubs this year and even connected with other UCLA cultural clubs like the Armenian Students’ Association (ASA) and Afrikan Student Union (ASU) on campus via a World Cup Tournament.

MESA has come far this year and is a great way for people to bond through dance, music and other social events. If you are thinking about getting to know this cultural club a bit more, check out their Instagram—you won’t be disappointed!

Armenian Students’ Association (ASA) at UCLA

Mary Keushkerian is a fourth-year student majoring in psychobiology and president of the Armenian Students’ Association (ASA). She describes the club as “dedicated to creating a friendly welcoming environment for Armenians attending UCLA and other non-Armenians as well,” with the sole purpose of providing a “small community in such a big school.” This club allows those involved to learn about Armenian history, culture and heritage.

ASA has a variety of events, each connected to the four committees involved: political affairs, philanthropy, cultural and social. For political affairs, ASA has had events with diplomats and other Armenian organizations, focusing on getting resolutions passed in support of Armenian students through the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC). For philanthropy, ASA works closely with cultural committees and has worked on creating med-packs to send to Armenia. ASA has many cultural events year-round. Armenian Heritage Month is also celebrated in April to educate more people about their culture and heritage, as well as to commemorate victims of the Armenian Genocide on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on April 24. Another event the club will have is on April 18 called Coachellian, which is essentially the “Armenian Coachella” with lots of outside and internal performers, dance, laughter and food. Socials include events that bring the community closer, from parties to get-togethers to restaurants. ASA lists all their events and important notes on their Instagram, so check it out there as well!

ASA has opportunities for members and those who follow their Instagram with events focused on career assistance, including personal statements, interviews and networking. Most importantly, Keushkerian mentions how ASA helped her find her voice and “learn to advocate for the Armenian community,” going beyond social and cultural ideas and helping to find a place of your own.

If you are Armenian or wish to learn about Armenian history and culture, check out their Instagram and UCLA website. You might just find the community on campus that you have been looking for.

Nigerian Students Association (NSA)

The Nigerian Student Association (NSA) is an organization at UCLA catered to bring recognition to Nigerian culture and other West Africans. Victoria Boahemaa Owusu is a fourth-year student majoring in biology and currently a member of the club. She said there are many Nigerians on the UCLA campus, but it is not just for Nigerians, noting that it is like a West African student association as well.

While NSA has some normal socials like study sessions during midterms or hosting game nights, NSA is also very in tune with providing ethnic and cultural aspects that many cultural clubs strive for. Owusu describes how NSA tries to teach others their African roots by teaching native languages like Yoruba, having a West African tribes photoshoot, and ending the year off with a cultural show that will take place on May 17. Owusu says that it will mainly display the culture and tribes of Nigeria through dance, but there is also something called “Neighborhood dance” to represent the other West African countries. She says that she is going to be involved with the Yoruba and Neighborhood dance. They practice well in advance, so if you are considering attending, take that first step and look at their socials!

The UCLA NSA dance team is well-known and performs well, as noted by Owusu, so that is a plus if you are interested in both dance and learning more about Nigerian and West African cultures. In the future, Owusu hopes they could explore more West African countries and expand the focus.

It can be difficult to find those you relate with on campus because of the wide range of cultures, but Owusu says to “go out and find your people,” and things will get a lot easier.

Mixed Student Union (MSU)

The Mixed Student Union (MSU) was “created for multiracial and multiethnic students to have a space on campus that they feel like they’re welcomed in,” as expressed by the social media director of MSU, Naomi Boodhoo, a fourth-year student double majoring in education and psychology. Boodhoo explains that the group wants to make the mixed community more visible on campus and emphasizes that “you can identify in whatever way feels right to you, whether it is one or both of your cultural affiliations.” Many of the regular members come from mixed backgrounds of a huge variety, but they also welcome people who want to become more involved in the community, even if they don’t identify with it.

Boodhoo shared a few of MSU’s events and activities. They have weekly meetings focused on discussions about a particular topic. Topics cover things like family night, talking about “Ancestry” or “23andMe” results and whether or not there are ethical implications for doing them, mixed mental health, discussions on how a lot of research is still not done on multiracial or multiethnic individuals and simply just learning about the mixed community in our society. Boodhoo expresses that it is nice to hear about other experiences and backgrounds. Apart from these more focused events and meetings, MSU has more laid-back activities like game nights, cultural drink nights, yarn nights with crocheting, etc.

MSU’s biggest event of the year is the Mixed Heritage Conference on April 27, where they invite three to four mixed activists, educators, artists and other professionals to share what they do in relation to the year’s theme; 2024’s conference theme is intersectionality. To learn more about what the organization has to offer and their upcoming events and socials, Instagram is a great place to do so!

Boodhoo expressed that it can be hard for mixed students to put themselves out there, and some feel like they are taking space. The MSU organization is meant to be a safe environment that encourages a better understanding of mixed students and provides a place where you can find your people. If you are a mixed student or want to learn about mixed identities, MSU is a great place to start.

Latine Film and Theatre Association (LFTA)

The Latine Film and Theatre Association (LFTA) is an organization focused on representing the Latinx community and the issues they face through an annual production using theatre, music, film and dance. Ingri Mendoza Matias, a third-year student majoring in English and minoring in central American studies, film and professional writing, is one of the co-chairs for LFTA. Matias says it is mainly made up of Latinos, with bigger roles going to Latino individuals since it is meant to represent their voices.

The annual show is called “Night of Cultura,” with the 2024 theme focused on Nuevas Raíces (New Roots). Matias states that a lot of the films and plays “deal with finding your way from family expectations and finding your own chosen family and path.” They start plays and films early to prepare for the Night of Cultura, meaning it is a commitment. This year, the event will take place on April 26-27 at the North West Campus Auditorium, starting at 6pm. For more information about the LFTA, their upcoming production, or even how to get involved, check out their Instagram!

Matias wants to note that the LFTA is a “no experience necessary type of organization,” meaning you can be knowledgeable in filmmaking and theater, but you do not necessarily have to be. If you are a Latinx student wanting to work with other students who share a similar culture to your own, enjoy the art of filmmaking and theater and want to learn more about Latine culture and experiences, this is a great way to get involved!

Liberty in North Korea at UCLA (LiNK at UCLA)

LiNK at UCLA is an organization determined to reduce the stigma of North Korean people, focusing more on raising awareness about humanitarian rights. Octavia Jo, a fourth-year student majoring in political science, is the president of LiNK at UCLA and said they “want to help the small community and change how North Korean people are being recognized.” In essence, focusing on being aware of the people and Korea rather than the government and politics.

Jo says there are many people from different backgrounds, but a good amount do know some Korean, though it is not a requirement. She emphasizes they are trying to support the North Korean refugees and people, not the government itself. They meet every week and have various events. Apart from general meetings, they have bi-weekly meetings where members gather and make the community larger, dinner meetings, fundraising events to help North Korean refugees and 1-on-1 English tutoring for refugees. Every quarter, they also have an “Advocacy Fellow” or “Speakers Event” where they bring someone helped by LiNK to share their story. Apart from these, the organization has had a couple of retreats, like going to Big Bear or San Diego. While Jo believes they have a good system so far, they want to have “smaller group sessions among group members so they can get to know each other a bit more deeply.” If you are interested in learning more, their Instagram is a great way to do it!

Jo says that they just want to focus on advocating for the people in North Korea and helping the refugees. If this sounds like something you want to do as well, give the club a chance.

American Indian Student Association (AISA)

The American Indian Student Association (AISA) is an organization focused on empowering American Indian students on campus and creating a tighter-knit community within such a large one. As depicted on their Instagram and UCLA website, they engage in a number of activities apart from general body meetings. A few of them include a Youth Conference/Basketball Tournament, bake sales, jeopardy games, and the UCLA Pow Wow. They are also having a Native Graduation Ceremony on June 14th! To learn a bit more about AISA.

Indian Student Union at UCLA (ISU)

The Indian Student Union (ISU) is an on-campus organization tailored to gain recognition of South Asian cultures through social and community-related events. Activities include general meetings, fundraisers, multiple different Fundragers, Garba and a Cultural Show. This 2024 year, ISU will be having a “Culture Show Skit” on May 4 in the Northwest Campus Auditorium. Their Instagram is updated quite often with upcoming events and noteworthy information, so take a look at it!

Other Clubs and Where to Learn More:

As I said before, UCLA has a lot of diversity in the Bruin community, and with that comes many ethnic and cultural clubs to explore. The list of these organizations is extensive; therefore, it is difficult to give a proper rundown of every single one. Some other cultural clubs that exist are the Afrikan Student Union (ASA), Association of Chinese Americans (ACA), Iranian Student Group (ISG), United Afghan Club (UAC), Lebanese Student Association (LSA) and the South Asian Student Union (SASU). This is just about half the list depicted on the UCLA website. To learn more, take a look at these two links:

If you still haven’t found your people on campus and want to learn more about a particular culture or ethnic group similar to or dissimilar to your own, try out some of these clubs. You’re bound to find something worthwhile!

Featured Image via Daily Bruin Archives

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