Photo by Sophia Escudero. Mariachi de Humboldt performs traditional song "El Rey" with featured vocalists Alexus Roberts and Glizel Lopez, the crowd singing along to the refrain, "llorar, llorar."

El Centro celebrates Latinx community in Heritage Month kickoff

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by Sophia Escudero

National Latinx Heritage Month began on Thursday, Sept. 15, and was commenced on campus in a kickoff event by El Centro Academico Cultural. The event featured performances by Mariachi de Humboldt, Danza Azteca, and Ballet Folklorico, catering by Los Giles Taqueria and Pupuseria San Miguel, and keynote speaker Johanna Toruño. 

Photo by Sophia Escudero | Dancer Jenny Leon lights the copalero, a traditional vessel in Danza Azteca. In the background, instructor Elizabeth Rivera announces as dancers Covin Sigala and Namixtulu Estevan and drummer Naeem Alston prepare for the dance.

The event brought in over 100 students and community members of all ages as Humboldt’s Latinx community gathered to celebrate their heritage. 

According to Fernando Paz, Coordinator for El Centro, community is what the month is all about. 

“It’s a moment to really recognize and uplift the unique achievements, and celebrate and honor what the Latinx community has accomplished within the United States,” Paz said. 

This national observation began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week, and it was expanded to a month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, in 1988. The starting date of Sept. 15 is significant as it is the anniversary of independence from Spain for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexican Independence Day and Chilean Independence Day are Sept. 16 and 18, respectively. 

After a land acknowledgement from El Centro, the event began with several songs by Mariachi de Humboldt. Mariachi de Humboldt features performers from the student body as well as the larger Humboldt community, and they soon amassed an enraptured audience, some singing along with the refrains while others simply listened. 

Photo by Sophia Escudero | Mariachi de Humboldt violinist Raul Torres focuses on the music.

Next up was speaker Johanna Toruño, a well-known street artist and activist. Much of her work involves messages of queer pride, Latinx identity, community support, and anticapitalism, and she works to make her art accessible through social media. Toruño was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States as a child. Many elements of her life are reflected in her artwork: floral frames in reference to the flowers her mother would buy, and a collage on supporting your own inner child featuring her own childhood photos. 

Her art contrasts strong political messages with pink and pastel imagery in a deliberate subversion of cisheteronormative gender roles. The messages are soft and feminine, and with that, powerful.

Toruño answered questions from the audience after her presentation, including one on what influences her art. 

“People,” Toruño said. “And I know that sounds like a very generic answer, but I mean it. People in the community and the folks that look at this work. The people, the migrants, the people around here living our lives, I think of them when I put up posters and I’m telling you right now, the Dominican salon ladies, the mail folks, the kids who are playing in the street– gente. That’s what inspires my work. 100%.” 

Photo by Sophia Escudero | Street artist Johanna Toruño explains how her lived experience as a queer migrant inspires her art as she presents traditional El Salvadoran art styles.

Soon after Toruño wrapped up the questioning, the food was served. Students queued the length of the JGC for tacos, pupusas, beans and rice, and horchatas. Meanwhile, the Danza Azteca club, led by instructor Elizabeth Rivera, performed several dances for the assembled guests, even teaching the steps to audience volunteers and encouraging them to dance along. 

As Paz and Toruño previously expressed, however, the most important part of the event was the people. Attendees eagerly dug into locally made food, applauded the performers, and danced in small groups as music played over the speakers. There was a sense of community, even as people were meeting for the first time. 

Student Jess Angulo was one of many who felt at home at the event. 

“I really enjoy it because I’m Hispanic, Latino, whatever,” Angulo said. “It feels familiar, like even the food feels nostalgic. It’s nice to see people like me.” El Centro will continue to hold events throughout the month, and their event calendar can be found on their website and their social media.

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