Mayor Marina Khubesrian and a small group pose for a photograph with visitors from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the Library Community Room. From left to right are: Sean Abajian; Max Dreskin; Marina Khubesrian, mayor; Sophie Dreskin; Queen Diambi Kabatusuila; Lissa Reynolds, Fremont Centre Theater; Tiffany Holmes; Riley Collins; April Robbins-Bobin, senior advisor to the queen; and Jaz Sawyer, chair, city Public Arts Commission. Photos by Sally Kilby

Mayor Marina Khubesrian hosted royalty on May 29. Queen Diambi Kabatusuila, who rules over a Bantu ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), visited South Pasadena. She was in Los Angeles as part of a world tour.

A small group of the mayor’s family and friends, as well as residents involved in the arts and education, met with the queen and her entourage at the Library Community Room. After greetings, introductions and some dialogue, they  adjourned to lunch at the nearby Aro Latin restaurant.

Mayor Khubesrian met the queen a few weeks ago in New Orleans. The mayor was there with Jaz Sawyer, chair of South Pasadena’s Public Arts Commission, and others to explore the possibility of a cultural exchange between South Pasadena and the Mardi Gras city. The queen was in New Orleans then as part of a world tour.

Of meeting the queen, Khubesrian said, “We really connected. We are like minded. She is interested in education, mental health and women’s issues. She has the people’s interest at heart.”

The queen travels the world bridging cultural gaps and emphasizing the importance of preserving the rich tradition of Africa, according to news reports. She was coronated in 2016 and has visited such countries as Brazil, England and Portugal. She speaks six languages, said Khubesrian.

The queen has said she wants to dispel negative images that some have of the continent.

Queen Diambi Kabatusuila is clearly thrilled to speak with South Pasadena resident Sean Abajian in the Tshiluba language. Abajian spent his early years in her country.

Sean Abajian, a South Pasadena resident and Los Angeles Unified School District employee, was one of those invited to the event. He lived in the DRC during elementary and high school. His parents were educators there, he explained.

“The queen is from a region where I actually lived,” he said.

Queen Diambi was clearly thrilled to converse with him.

“I grew up learning French and [the language] Tshiluba during my time there,” he said in an email following the event. “I greeted her with some words in Tshiluba.”

Abajian said that she became queen after her father, who was in line to become king, declined the title.

“A ceremony was held by the elders of the Bakwa Luntu ethnic group in 2016 to determine who would be the successor,” Abajian said and the decision was made to crown Diambi Kabatusuila as queen, which she accepted immediately.”

Khubesrian hopes to develop a cultural exchange with the Queen.

“I could totally see developing some type of relationship.” Abajian said at the event. “There is a deep history in the arts.”

For example, he said, “Kuba carvings from that area were imitated by such European artists as Picasso. We have a gallery in City Hall, and we could showcase some artists.”

“Queen Diambi is a wonderful goodwill ambassador,” he said in an email after the event, “and I hope that this initial meeting sparks many more conversations between our communities.”

During their lunch together, he said the queen spoke of her region’s great need for mobile clinics, wells for drinking water and bicycles for transportation.

Khubesrian also wants to pursue developing a relationship with New Orleans. “We talked about all we had in common,” she said of her meeting with its city officials. “They knew about our successful fight against the 710, and they wanted to know how we did it.

“Both cities also support arts and culture,” she said. “We want to bring New Orleans jazz to South Pasadena.”

In fact, she said in an email, a Juneteenth fundraiser featuring a 10-piece jazz band known as the NOLA Resistance led by New Orleans’ resident Matt Dillon will be held June 19th at the War Memorial Building. A portion of the funds will go toward programs to introduce jazz in after-school programs, she said.

Khubesrian hopes that South Pasadena can become a friendship city or sister city with the city that is known as the birthplace of Jazz.

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Sally Kilby, a South Pasadena resident, was City Clerk 2000-2013. Prior to that, she worked in health care as a nurse, medical librarian, advertising copywriter, writer and journal editor. She is involved in various community organizations. Her two grown children attended South Pasadena schools and work at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.

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