A refugee from southern Sudan, Yolanda Lorya first fled to Kenya for 10 years, and then made her final move to Erie 12 years ago. She learned her beadwork and dance regalia tradition from the women in her family.
“Other women know how to make these costumes, but they don’t have the time. I do this because I want to see African things. If I stay here without making African things, I look lost. I want our children who were born here to know about us.”
Yolanda Lorya is thought to be one of the only people in North America currently making traditional Latuko dance costumes. When she moved to the United States, learning English and raising her large family consumed most of her time. Yet, several years ago she realized that the more settled she became, the more she missed her African culture. After a 20-year hiatus, she revived the traditional beadwork she learned as girl.
Making tribal beadwork during the civil war in Sudan brought terrible persecution. She admits the biggest obstacle in America is the busy pace, but she is grateful for the creative freedom she has in the States. She now creates custom-fit costumes for Latuko across the country, taking orders when she attends their annual gathering held in a different North American city each year.