USC students painted with children, performed live for locals, and danced on the green grass of the Hoover Recreation Center, just blocks away from the University of Southern California.
These are but a few scenes from this Saturday’s first annual Los Angeles May Day Festival, an event aiming to promote a greater sense of connection between USC students and the surrounding community.
The festival created a space where local residents and students could come together and enjoy music, food, games, and the free exchange of ideas in celebration of the spirit of May Day.
The event also catered to May Day’s modern role for increasing awareness of the struggles still faced by laborers. Signatures were taken to help raise awareness of twelve Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who are suing the Dole Corporation for concealing the dangers of a pesticide that they claim made them sterile.
Tiffany Scalia, a senior majoring in Spanish and international relations, helped co-organize the event with USC alumnus, Juli Emmel, a long with their network of USC students, local residents and businesses, as well as community-focused organizations like USC Creating Just Communities.
The North Area Neighborhood Development Council, an organization dedicated to the well-being of the communities around USC, co-sponsored the event.
The festival included a full lineup of live music and entertainment from local artists and USC students, a kids’ zone with activities and crafts, an art gallery featuring local artists, and a community art wall across the park. Food, book and clothing drives were set up in collaboration with Food Not Bombs, Books For People and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council of Los Angeles.
Locals and USC students who helped organize the event have high hopes for its message to spread and for the event itself to continue for years to come.
THE MEANINGS OF MAY DAY
May Day in the traditional sense marks the end of the unfarmable winter and the coming of summer. The most well known tradition of the holiday is dancing about a Maypole, giving “may baskets” filled with sweets and flowers, and the crowning of the Queen of May.
May Day has also become synonymous with International Workers’ Day in many counties and this linkage is celebrated through much of the world. However, May Day is not observed in the United States, although many people use it as a day to protest in support of workers’ rights.
Both of these meanings were combined in Los Angeles’ first May Day Festival.
Scalia believes there has been a growing dichotomy between the university and the surrounding community, and one goal of this festival was to help promote involvement and “meaningful interaction” between the two groups.
“My inspiration came when I was at a The Sunset Junction Street Festival and was talking to one of the original producers of the event,” Scalia said. “He told me the festival started with the goal of decreasing tension that existed with the gay community and black community that were living next to each other. I then thought of how the community around USC has a lack of involvement.”
Scalia crafted a plan to put together an event that would help bring USC students and local residents together. When thinking of how to actually put the event together, she reached out to USC alumnus, Juli Emmel.
The two had worked together at USC’s Bovard auditorium and Scalia knew Emmel had been working on live events after graduating.
“Tiffany sent me this random email in December or January asking how these productions were put on,” Emmel said. “She told me about her idea and I jumped on it. I didn’t even know much about May Day before we put this together. But the more I started working on it, researching and getting more involved, I realized how beautiful this community is and what a great idea this was.”
Emmel said that there were a few bumps on the road to planning the event.
“Funding of course for any free event can be difficult, especially when it is a grass roots event with no parent organization,” Emmel said. “Thankfully a lot of people donated their time.”
Andrea Christian is a prime example of a USC student who came out for the cause of the festival and had no qualms about helping out.
“I’ve seen the separation of the community and students,” Christian said. “It is a line I don’t want to see anymore, something that should be erased.”
Christian said that she would enjoy any event where there is music, food, and people coming together.
Locals who came out the event were surprised and glad to hear USC students were the ones who came up with the notion.
“I love living next to such a nice university and I bring my daughters there sometimes on weekend. But at times, it feels as if the people on that campus have no idea what is happening a mile away from them,” said Marie Hernandez. “I can’t believe some students wanted to put this together and I applaud them for it.”
A graffiti artist who came out to the event appreciated the possibility to meet with students while also working on his retro art on the community art wall. However, he thinks there shouldn’t just be one event a year to bring the community together.
“I’d definitely like to see more events like this where I can meet people from the campus, chat with them, and also work on my skills,” said Arnold Johnson, a 19-year-old who lives just a few minutes from the campus.
“I think we need more of these, throughout the year. One event won’t change everything, but it is definitely a start.”
Scalia wanted the modern meaning of May Day to be present at the festival.
Even after she graduates, Scalia plans for the festival to be an annual event organized by a council of students from local high schools in conjunction with a group of USC students, all in hopes of continuing the promotion of community involvement and unity.
Each the year the festival will focus on a specific labor rights issue.
This year’s festival raised awareness of Nicaraguan banana workers who are suing Dole for concealing the dangers of a pesticide that they claim made them sterile.
More than $2 billion have been given to Dole banana farmers workers who claimed to be unable to have children because of pesticide poisoning, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A 2009 Swedish documentary titled Bananas!* and directed by Fredrik Gertten details the conflict between the Dole Food Company and banana plantation workers in Nicaragua over alleged cases of sterility caused by the pesticide DBCP.
German Pena, director of the Nicaraguan American Opportunity Foundation, was at the festival to help support the banana workers’ and spread awareness about their call for justice.
“We understand that Dole is responsible because they knew that those chemicals was prohibited to use in the USA but they used it in Central and South America” Pena said. “My main concern are the victims in Nicaragua and if I can do something, I’ll do it. I will continue working in support of my people.”
Flyers and other informational material about the Nicaraguan banana workers were handed out at the festival, as well as letters attendees could sign and send to the Dole Corporation demanding action.