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El Homenaje celebrates Latinx culture, heritage in Kitao

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El Homenaje (The Tribute) lived up to its name as a celebration of Latinx culture and heritage. Held on Friday, Oct. 28th in the Kitao Art Gallery, the event featured performances and artwork by Latinx students and alumni. A collaboration between the Kitao Art Gallery and the Latinx Heritage Month Committee, the two-hour event welcomed students to enjoy poetry, songs, artwork, and food, along with plenty of laughter, banter, and sticky fingers from the delicious pan dulce (sweet bread).

“I pitched the idea of a [Latinx Heritage Month] event within Kitao when we got back from Fall Break, and the committee was excited and so was Kitao Board,” said Amal Sagal ’19, who helped to organize and co-host El Homenaje.

“One big part of the art gallery was emphasizing the personal meaning of Latinx to Latinx members on campus,” said Karen Avila ’20, who also helped to organize and co-host the event.

She continued, “We took a camera, and we snapped photos of some Latinx Swatties holding a whiteboard that read ‘Latinidad means to me …’”

These photographs were then displayed on a wall in the gallery. Students’ responses to the statement varied from long sentences on embracing their heritage to a whiteboard containing a single word: “FAMILY.” On the opposite wall were paintings with hats hung between them as decorations to space them out. A collection of photographs taken by Max Hernández ’17 of his family and documenting his travels occupied one corner of the room. Some sculptures and figurines were also displayed on a table.

“[T]he ENLACE room had a lot of decorations and artwork from past alums that were hung up. Additionally, we created a post on the ENLACE [Facebook] group that encouraged people to hand in artwork, and reached out to individuals outside of ENLACE that we knew had artistic talents,” Avila said, explaining of the process of curating the artwork.

Large flags from Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Honduras, and Colombia were hung throughout the rest of the gallery, filling any remaining spaces with pride and color. The vibrancy of the displays helped to create a relaxed, cheerful atmosphere in the room, and the pan dulce and chocolate caliente Abuelita (a brand of Mexican hot chocolate) served added a sense of comfort, warmth, and intimacy. Students wandered around the space, admiring the artwork and chatting with friends till the hosts stepped up to the microphone to announce the start of the performances.

Cat Vélez ’17 was up first, performing three heart-wrenching poems inspired by personal experience. The audience was silent with awe, save for the occasional snapping of fingers. This performance was followed by a five-minute break, allowing the audience to either sit and reflect upon Vélez’s powerful words or to get a second helping of hot chocolate and bread.

Avila then took the stage, singing two songs in Spanish with no backing music or instruments. Her clear, sweet voice was met by enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience, most of whom knew her personally.

“It was obviously nerve-wracking, especially since I don’t perform in front of people often—or at all,” Avila said of the experience.

Avila added that she did feel a sense of commitment to performing because she wanted to share the beauty of Latinx music with her friends and other Swatties.

Afterward, most of the audience stayed back in the gallery to enjoy the art and continue talking with friends. There was a strong sense of solidarity in the small community that attended the event.

“The space gave Latinx members a sense of home, community, and love, which they then opened up to non-Latinx members. We felt comfortable and eager to share our beautiful culture and heritage with our friends and peers,” said Avila.

Although El Homenaje was originally intended to be held during the Kitao Arts Festival, which fell on the first day of Latinx Heritage Month, the delay in planning allowed for more careful and thorough organization. This enabled the committee to create an event whose significance shone through in its emphasis of Latin America’s rich histories and cultures.

“I think that the flexibility within the environment and scene that El Homenaje created was beautiful. We had moments of silence and others of conversation,” said Avila.

“The committee really took the reins and created a beautiful expression of Latinx art and culture … The event felt familial and celebratory with lots of laughter and love. The open mic portion allowed for the voices of multiple experiences to be heard,” Sagal said.

When asked if she would do it again, Avila said, “I would love to organize another event like this! It did not feel like a task, but rather something I wanted to do for myself and for other Latinx members.”

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