“The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!,” students sang in celebration as a colossal congo line wreathed around the disco-lit dance floor at the “Latinx Heritage Celebration.” Students and faculty filled their bellies with empanadas, esquite, sweet concha bread, and cups of agua fresca as they chatted with one another, watched live performances, and partied into the night in McClaren on Saturday, Sept. 24.
In observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Latina Unidas, Latinx Undergrad Network of Activists (LUNA), the Latinx/Chicanx department, and New Student and Family programs joined forces to host an event for USF’s Latine community and anyone interested in appreciating their rich cultural heritage. According to Latina Unidas president and advertising major, Isabella Flores, the event was the largest celebration of Latine culture in USF’s history.
The lights dimmed down, revealing colorful disco lights. A DJ played Latin classics and people made their way to the dance floor. Songs like “Suavemente” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” played as joy and celebration filled the air. While some danced the night away, others did arts and crafts. Students decorated tote bags, made their own papel picados and paper flowers, and mapped their heritage on a giant map of Latin America. Friends ran excitedly to take photos at a digital photobooth, snapshotting a night they would never forget. “This is historic. This has never been done before,” said fourth-year sociology major and vice president of LUNA, Destiny Camarillo.
Director of the critical diversity studies major and the Chicana-Latina studies minor, Christina Garica Lopez, was the first speaker to take the stage. Lopez offered advice on how to navigate life as a Latine student in white spaces. “Having a community is essential,” she said. “If you are going to do anything hard in life, you need people to lean on.”
Paul S. Flores, a performing arts and social justice professor also emphasized the importance of community as he sang “Quimbara” to introduce his set of spoken word poems that explored his identity as a Mexican-Cuban American. Flores was glad to see Latine students in a space made for them and by them — an experience he never had growing up. “I always feel very honored to talk to Latino students,” he said. “Love who you are and where you come from. Celebrate your family and the stories of your people.”
Guests were also treated to a performance from Folklórico de USF, a group of students performing traditional folk dance from Mexico. The club performed three dances to upbeat Mexican music as the audience cheered and jumped out of their seats, dancing and clapping along to the beat.
Lidia Velasco-Robles, a second-year politics major and vice president of Folklórico de USF, felt empowered after performing in celebration of her heritage and community. “Folklórico is the epitome of our motherland — Mexico,” she said. “To have a space for us in an institution that was not made for us is absolutely exhilarating.”
Although the event brought its organizers joy, it also revealed university shortcomings. Some LUNA and Latinas Unidas members said that they felt a lack of support from the University in comparison to other organizations on campus. Amid rush week and the swirl of the new school year, they ran into difficulties coordinating with Student Leadership and Engagement, as well as Bon Appetit, and felt that these organizations and USF’s administration should make more of an effort to create a safe space and promote their Latine students and organizations. “It felt like we were put on the backburner,” said Flores, “This event was built on our backs.”
Camarillo echoed Flores’ frustration. “I would have expected that since Latino students make up such a large portion of the student body, they would have already made an event like this. But they didn’t.”
Despite roadblocks, Flores was determined to make the event a success. As a Latina in the U.S., she never felt like she had a place in her schools growing up. She hopes community empowerment at USF will eliminate that feeling for Latine students here. “I want to provide for them what I wish I had,” she said.
First-year critical diversity studies major, Metzli Lemus, felt “at home” during the celebration. “It felt nice to see people older than me who are established here and have made a place for themselves. I look up to them a lot,” she said.
The final speaker of the night, Antonio Cantu, a psychologist from the Felton institute emphasized the importance of breaking generational cycles of poor mental health habits and having difficult conversations with one another about racism within the Latine community.
Third-year exchange student, Josefa Amanda Pasteus Jara, echoed this message. Coming from Chile, she was pleased to see the diversity of the Latine community at USF. “Events like these allow us to check ourselves,” she said. “There’s no one way of being Latino.”
Latine students felt supported by their classmates of other cultural backgrounds at the event. Second-year finance and computer science double major, Leonardo Yniguez said, “It’s amazing that there are people of all different backgrounds here that are willing to participate and share this culture with us.”
First-year biology major and Black Student Union member, Karimah Jalloh, said “I am appreciative to be immersed in their culture. It’s very festive, colorful, and all about community. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Students danced until around 11 p.m., leaving the event’s organizers impassioned and proud of the resilience and excellence of Latine folks. “Tonight was so fun and upbeat, but in the middle it really hit me. Wow, this is our community,” said Camarillo.