Sudan Culture Fest celebrates north African heritage in Hayward: Here's a look

But behind the colorful thobes (traditional robes) and turbans, and joyful songs, is the backdrop of Sudan's civil war

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Sunday, May 26, 2024
Sudan Culture Fest celebrates north African heritage in Hayward
Many community groups are celebrating their cultural heritage. Sudanese Americans held the Sudan Culture Fest in downtown Hayward.

HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- On center stage, a group of women sing "Elgoma Laik Ya Watan," which translates from the Arabic to, "We Stand Up For You, Oh Beloved Country!" It's part invocation for the country of Sudan, that is embattled in a civil war.

"It was one of those patriotic songs that was made back in the 60s, during revolution. So it is very befitting for the times that we are in," says Alla Suliman.

She is among the hundreds who attended the Sudan Culture Fest in Hayward. It was a day-long celebration of her native Sudan. Her relatives flew in from other parts of the United States just to be here.

"It is all about family and community. Food and culture and songs are a huge part of who we are. And, so I would love for people to come to these events and know more about Sudan from Sudanese people," says Suliman, who lives in Hayward.

Harith Elrufaie is President of the Sudanese Association for Northern California. He says there are just a few thousand Sudanese Americans living in the Bay Area. The City of Hayward is home to the largest local Sudanese community. He says the goal of these types of events is to raise awareness about their heritage.

"The Nubian heritage and the Black pharaohs that are on the north end of Sudan. There are like 1,000-plus pyramids in north Sudan. People mostly hear about the ones in Egypt," says Elrufaie.

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There was live music, dancing, and plenty of food at San Francisco's Carnaval festival as local vendors connected with the community.

But behind the colorful thobes (traditional robes) and turbans, and joyful songs, is the backdrop of Sudan's civil war, now in its second year. According to the United Nations, almost 14,000 people have been killed and close to 9 million people displaced.

"Water was disconnected from homes. We didn't have drinking water. Electricity was on and off," explains Arif Ibrahim, a tech entrepreneur who lives Oakley.

Ibrahim was in Sudan when the war started. He escaped through Egypt.

There are concerns that Sudan is being neglected due to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. Locally, they've been collecting signatures to urge President Joe Biden to speak out against the war. And fundraising to collect critical aid to send back home.

"At this time, there is no income for people there. How will they eat? That solves the problem today. But what about tomorrow? That's what scares me the most," says Ibrahim.

But like the patriotic songs of the past, many here says they will continue to fight for peace, as they've done in the past.

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