Every September, communities nationwide celebrate Latin@ Heritage Month. Here at Swarthmore, Latino student organization Enlace is marking the month with a series of events, ranging from concerts featuring Latino artists to seminars and workshops focusing on Latino issues.
This year, Enlace leaders are focusing heavily on the arts as a “lens” for educating the community about Latino issues, according to Rachell Morillo ‘14, co-president of Enlace. Both visual and performance arts have come to Swarthmore this year for Latin@ Heritage Month.
Performance art predominates. This past weekend saw a trio of performances by musical artists Zuzuka Poderosa, Las Krudas and Geko Jones. A Saturday night Olde Club concert featuring these artists combined modern music with older varieties to create an intergenerational style.
Enlace member Javier Perez ’13 elaborated on the role of art in Latino culture. “I think [Latin@ Heritage Month] is a special opportunity to celebrate Latino history and culture as it has influenced and shaped American history.” Perez is also a leader of O.A.S.I.S. (“Our Art Spoken In Soul”), a student organization founded last year to “give the campus a new outlet for self-expression” through spoken-word poetry.
O.A.S.I.S. collaborated with Enlace to bring El Grito de Poetas (“The Cry of Poets”), a Latino spoken-word group based in New York, to campus this past Friday. Poetas comprises seven artists, six men and one woman, who passionately deliver original spoken word compositions, sometimes as a group, sometimes as individuals.
The performance spanned two hours in the LPAC Cinema, taking a number of different tones and touching on a variety of issues. One of the prevalent themes throughout the show was the issue of diversity within the Latin@ community. The artists asserted that while American society sometimes compartmentalizes people with Latin American origins, there are, in fact, dramatic differences between Puerto Ricans and Colombians, between Dominicans and Brazilians. “Embrace each other’s differences,” one of the artists said, “and find the common denominator.”
Enlace co-president Andrea Jacome ’14 agrees. “Issues [of diversity within the Latino community] definitely come up in Latin@ Heritage Month, especially when you see that Latin America is a very big and spread-out place.”
El Grito de Poetas also touched on several other issues that might not be considered Latino issues at first glance. One of the artists performed a composition about being overweight and the judgment that consequently falls upon him. Another spoke of having a father who left his family early on. A third reflected on being HIV-positive and the effect the diagnosis has had on his life. “It’s been eighteen years and I’m still here,” he declared, referring to the initial projection that he would have only seven years to live.
As they touched on these topics, the poets asserted that when an issue affects the Latino community, it becomes a Latino issue.
Digging deeper into Latino issues, Enlace also sponsored a collection of visual art, on display at the Kitao Gallery, which deals with immigration, an issue perennially significant to the Latino community. The art consists of several prints bearing symbolic images and slogans broadcasting the need for reform of US immigration policy and the costs of the fence along the US-Mexico border.
On Sunday, three members of the San Francisco-based group HAVOQ(“Horizontal Alliance of Very Organized Queers”) spoke to students at the Gallery. HAVOQ advocates for immigrant and queer rights, two issues which may seem to have little overlap. The group asserts that queer and immigrant issues are vastly interconnected, contending that the US ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage prevents US nationals from obtaining citizenship for their immigrant partners.
HAVOQ also believes that US immigration policy disadvantages transgendered immigrants given that they may have different genders listed on different forms of identification.
One point that the HAVOQ members were sure to stress was their lack of political affiliation. “[Immigration] is not a Democrat/Republican issue,” said leader Molly Goldberg. She stresses that more illegal immigrants have been deported under the Obama administration than any other.
According to Jacome, one facet of diversity in the Latino community sometimes goes unrecognized — the difference between being an immigrant from Latin America and being a Latino raised in the United States. “We still have a long way to go in terms of embracing that aspect of our diversity,” she says.
Morillo agreed, adding that breaking down stereotypes is an inherent part of any heritage event. “We’re doing very well in terms of embracing our diversity … but there’s still a lot of growing and improvement to be had,” she says, adding that dialogue is the best way to fight stereotypes. “The way you can combat stereotypes is having [a] conversation … about your own complexity, admitting to yourself that you aren’t the stereotype, you’re not even all uniform.”
Latin@ Heritage Month will continue until the first week of October, and there are still several events remaining on the calendar. Two popular films highlighting Latino communities will be shown in the coming weeks — “Wind Journeys” on September 23 and “Biutiful” on September 25. In addition, Enlace will host several speakers, including Lin-Manuel Miranda (writer of “In The Heights”) on September 29 and Aviva Chompsky (an immigrant rights activist) on October 3. The Kitao Gallery will also host another event to discuss the collection of immigration-focused artwork; the date has yet to be determined.
Enlace leaders stress that these events are open to everyone on campus, not just members of Enlace or people who identify as Latino. Others are encouraged to attend events and learn about Latino culture. “[Latin@ Heritage Month] is an opportunity to spotlight a lot of beautiful things our culture has produced,” Jacome said. “Having this cultural heritage month is a way of securing recognition. We don’t only exist in September.”