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It’s been a number of years since Milwaukeeans have gathered in celebration of African culture. In fact, since the last African World Festival was held in 2013, there has been a void of public acknowledgement of the rich cultures inherent to the African diaspora.
However, a new group aims to change that. Africans in Milwaukee, made up of devoted community members with ties to the continent of Africa, have organized African Fiesta, a cultural celebration of the continent's foods, heritage and family.
"For so many years, the African community has been organized in small groups, largely divided by tribes," says Yollande Tchouapi Deacon. "But this group is comprised of young people, progressive people who are interested in sharing, in making community and building a more diverse community."
As a step in the right direction, Africans in Milwaukee have planned a small-scale event, African Fiesta, which will take place from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 at Brown Deer Park, 7853 N. Green Bay Rd., in picnic areas 5-8. The event is free and open to the public.
The goal of the event is simple, Deacon notes. It’s about getting people together to share food and enjoy common activities. But it also marks a small step forward toward a larger festival, which the group hopes to launch as soon as next year.
The celebration will feature a free potluck meal showcasing ethnic dishes from attendees, as well as a sampling from African restaurants and caterers. According to Deacon, owner of sponsoring restaurant Irie Zulu, she will be serving a variety of authentic African items including peanut stew, joloff rice, foo foo, sweet plantains and Nigerian soups including efo riro and egusi. Other African business owners are also taking part by donating money, food and resources.
"Every event in peoples’ lives in Africa revolves around food," says Deacon. "If you have a baby, we bring you food. If you get married, we bring you food. Food is central to our culture. So this is our way of gathering and sharing. It is a way to speak a common language that is united and coherent."
Throughout the day, there will also be cultural activities, including a tribal fashion show, children’s activities (like face-painting) and a showcase of African art, music and poetry.
Musical entertainment will be provided by musicians such as Lucky Diop, Oumar Sagna and Ina Onulu Drum. And adults are invited to participate in soccer, as well as other organized games.
African countries represented at the event will include Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Uganda, South Africa, Congo, Burundi, Togo, Benin, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
"Ultimately," notes Deacon, "this is part of a larger movement to build awareness and community among Africans in Milwaukee. We want to see something good come of this. We want people to see a good, cohesive image of what Africa really is."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.