Heavy bass echoed from McLaren Hall as DJ Jose Sanchez faded Bad Bunny’s “Tití Me Preguntó” into Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” at the Latine Heritage Celebration on Sept. 22. Students in the bubble-filled room lined up at the photo booth with cups of horchata in hand, and they were drawn to the colorful rows of paint pots and paper flowers at the crafts table. Approximately 50 students and faculty members attended this annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, co-hosted by the Latine Undergrad Network of Activists (LUNA and Latinas Unidas; the latter has been organizing on-campus Latine cultural events since 1999.
“Every time I see people laughing, eating, and just sharing stories and meeting people, it makes my heart so happy because I know that’s what LUNA strives for,” said Metzli Lemus, LUNA event coordinator. “Whenever we see homesick freshmen who are here, now meeting people who share the same culture as them, like the same music as them, who look like them, it makes us all so happy to see. It’s also amazing to see people who are not Latine come in and share that culture with us — to see everyone appreciate it.”
USF’s Folklórico Club provided entertainment at the celebration, performing a traditional Mexican dance to the cheers of the audience. The dancers were adorned in flowing green skirts and red flowers tucked in their hair. The club, which preserves and honors Mexican culture through dance, performs dances from regions across Mexico for various on-campus presentations, often partnering with Latinas Unidas.
At the celebration, guest speakers shared stories about growing up and figuring out their Latine identities, and discovering spaces of belonging. Speaker Melissa Garcia, interdisciplinary scholar and assistant professor at USF, debuted a poem sharing her mother’s story of immigrating to California in the trunk of a car in 1982. “I have never taken lightly the phrase ‘I am my ancestors’ wildest dream,’” she told the audience.
As students munched on tamales and sweet conchas, speaker Mario Gonzalez, USF housing coordinator, took the stage. “When I was in college, I didn’t feel like I was Latine enough to get involved: I wasn’t listening to Spanish music enough, I wasn’t undocumented, I wasn’t a Latine studies major. The thing is, I was the only one who stopped myself from going to these events—I cut myself off from these connections and the community. People are not going to turn you away,” he said.
Regarding the strength of the student organizations in promoting heritages and cultures on campus, Lemus said, “I feel like it’s the student organizations that really spearhead the events and bring to life what the students are asking for on campus.”
LUNA Public Relations executive Diego Gomez said, “In what I see from campus admin, I don’t hear a lot about Latine students on campus, so we’re just trying to make the population more active through clubs.”
Junior advertising student and attendee Lisa Flores said, “I think the Latine clubs on campus do a wonderful job; they provide resources, list faculty members, and host events to highlight the culture of campus. They actively work to show the community how we’re not alone.”
In a closing statement that again encouraged students to take part in cultural events, Christina Garcia Lopez, director of Chicanx-Latinx studies said to the audience, “I know how difficult it can be to walk into a new space and be vulnerable, to let yourself be seen.”
Lopez, also the director of critical diversity studies, continued, “The question of whether you will or won’t be accepted, it’s a risk worth taking, and I hope all of us continue to take that risk. You taking that risk makes USF a better place — your passion, empathy, you inspire us.”
Both Latinas Unidas and LUNA have many future celebrations lined up, and encourage all Dons to come out and support on-campus offerings, such as Molcajete, an event that supports local vendors, on September 28th at Privett Plaza.