Latinx and Hispanic cultures are not encompassed by food and dance alone, according to Rev. Alejandro Olayo-Méndez, S.J., an assistant professor in the Boston College School of Social Work.
“We love to dance,” Olayo-Méndez said at the 2021 Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month Celebration. “We love food. … But is that all that we have? Is that all that we celebrate when we talk about heritage? Is that all that Latinx communities have to bring?”
The Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC) filled the Gasson 100 banquet room with color and dance during the annual celebration Tuesday night. During his keynote address, Olayo-Méndez discussed the need for his community to confront injustice and unify with other people in the world.
The celebration included a performance from Fuego del Corazon, BC’s Latin dance team, alongside the off-campus dance group Bajucol Colombian Folklore Dance Company. Bajucol performed three traditional Colombian dances: the Bambuco, the Cumbia, and the Bachata.
After the performances, students lined the atrium as BAIC staff served Latin dishes like arroz con gandules, pollo guisado, plátanos maduros, and mini pastelitos rellenos de pollo.
Bianca Lopez, co-chair of the committee that organized the celebration and MCAS ’22, said she was delighted with the attendance.
“It feels amazing to just see the [amount] of people that came by to show support and also seeing so many people here,” Lopez said. “It’s unreal. It’s surreal.”
During his speech, Olayo-Méndez called on the audience to consider three main ideas: the ability of the Hispanic and Latinx community to address the tension with its colonial past, to resist injustice, and to be inclusive.
In the 1960s, the national celebration of Hispanic Heritage lasted only a week, not a month, Olayo-Méndez said.
“In 1968 it was only a week.” Olayo-Méndez said. “It was only in 1988 with President Ronald Reagan that we finally get 30 days of celebration of these cultures instituted. It starts [on] September 15 because many of the independence days for Latin American countries are around those days.”
There is tension in the celebration stemming from Spanish colonialism, Olayo-Méndez said.
“It starts with the Spanish,” Olayo-Méndez said. “Which if you want to know a little bit about history and understand the colonial roots of Latin America, you have to talk about and have those conversations about the role of Spain as a dominant country in Latin America.”
But Latinx and Hispanic people can resist this tension and confront it, according to Olayo-Méndez.
“We need to also be able to say these people that have paved the way for us have been resilient and have resisted,” Olayo-Méndez said. “El resistencia no es un idea.”
Olayo-Méndez was in graduate school in Chicago in 2006 when protests for immigration reform occurred across the country, he said.
Attending those protests, Olayo-Méndez said he looked around and saw more than just Latin American flags.
“And I remember walking through the highline Chicago going downtown,” Olayo-Méndez said. “I think this, this is my people.”
This march for justice was a moment of unity, Olayo-Méndez said.
“We are here to establish it. We want to be seen. We march, saying over and over and over, ‘Si podemos, si se puede,’” Olayo-Méndez said, which translates to “Yes we can, yes we can.”
Featured Image by Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor