A year of World Cultures events bring life back to City College

From cultural presentations to live music events, the program transitions students from Zoom to in-person activities


Brandon Lauer, left, Andrew Nemeth, center, and Nathan Svec, right, stand in front of a packed Black Box Theatre crowd performing one of many poetry reads at the “Voices from the Left” event presented by the World Cultures program. The poems tell the stories of three men dealing with their alcoholic habits. Photo by Antonio Contreras/City Times Media

On a sunny afternoon last October at San Diego City College, a jazz trio played an eclectic mix of classical music as a dancer tapped her feet to the beat.

In a darkened campus theater, students debuted deeply personal stories of their lives through poetry.

On a cloudy afternoon, students listened to Spanish arias when an opera group from Tijuana came to City College.

And in a packed corner of the cafeteria, an artist shared the story of a mural that documents the 50-year history of the college’s Chicano Studies program.

These were four of roughly 30 events on campus hosted by the World Cultures program over the 2022-23 academic year.

After two years of tough transitions from in-person to Zoom and back to in-person events due to the COVID-19 shutdown, the City College World Cultures Program was back on its feet, giving back a sense of normalcy to the campus.

“It’s really great to just see people on campus again,” said Michael Espar, an associate professor of music and chair of the World Cultures Program, in an interview with City Times last fall. “Coming together for the events has been one of my favorite things about the reopening of campus. There’s definitely something to be said for the energy of a live event.”

The Spring 2023 semester had a big impact on cultural experiences at City College.

Opera singers at City College
Opera singers Norma Navarrete, Ameyali Escobar, Alberto Estanol of The Opera of Tijuana and Ivan Mares who played the piano. Photo by Shamere Grimes/City Times Media

Whether it be the Black Film Fridays with their screenings of iconic movies like “Black Panther,” “42” or “King Richard,” or a land acknowledgment and celebration of local Kumeyaay people or even the City College rendition of the musical “Cabaret,” World Cultures brought a sense of excitement and cultural curiosity to the students and faculty of City College. 

As the program returned live events to campus, former chair of World Cultures and Communications professor Maria Jose Zeledon Perez attended several. She believed Espar has done a fantastic job bringing entertainment to City College.

“I’m really excited and elated that we’re back, that students, faculty and classified professionals are here on campus to come attend these events in person,” Perez said mid-year. “It’s always nice to be in person because we have more of a discussion about whatever we’re learning at that moment and enjoy each other’s company. It adds a different feeling.”

San Diego City College Professor of Fine Art Terri Hughes-Oelrich guides Miss Kumeyaay Nation 2022-2023 Priscilla Ortiz Lachappa and the crowd to view murals in the AH drive through parking garage on Jan 31, 2023. Photo by Susana Serrano/City Times
San Diego City College Professor of Fine Art Terri Hughes-Oelrich (right) guides Miss Kumeyaay Nation 2022-2023 Priscilla Ortiz Lachappa and the crowd to view murals in the AH drive-through parking garage at the City College land acknowledgment and celebration of local Kumeyaay people on Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Susana Serrano/City Times

Students on campus shared the sentiments of Espar and Perez.

“It’s really cool because you really get to see many different perspectives and stories that aren’t really talked about, especially the minorities,” Psychology major Kelly Tapia said. “It’s just an experience that you can go to and you just feel like you’re connecting with them.”

Attending in person rather than on Zoom helped students feel an increased connection to the presenters and the topics discussed.

“I feel like it’s kind of hard to project that passion and emotion through maybe like a glitchy camera,” Computer Science major Gonzalo Solgado said. “I just thought it was really surprising that an individual did something so drastic that wasn’t like a story or a folktale, it was something he went through.”

Espar said he was given an annual budget of $20,000, $10,000 per semester. This funding covers payments to event guests.

Student Alexander Daumas gets his book signed by author Reyna Grande at City College
Student Alexander Daumas gets his book signed by author Reyna Grande at City College. Photo by Sophia Traylor/City Times Media

After two years, Espar’s term as World Cultures chair is coming to an end. City College is now recruiting his replacement.

Espar was hoping his work bringing live events to campus would bring more people from all over San Diego’s East Village to come to campus. Even though his goal wasn’t as accomplished as he wanted, Espar remains hopeful for the future of the program.

“My challenge was to bring the program back to campus,” Espar said. “I hope that the next chair will continue to bring more live music events to campus and raise the profile of the program.”