By Savannah Cooper | Staff Writer
A vibrant arch of blue, orange and pink balloons greeted guests Thursday night as they walked through a threshold into a transformed, banquet-ready Barfield Drawing Room in the Bill Daniel Student Center.
Starting at 7 p.m., the Hispanic Student Association (HSA) kicked off its 30th annual Hispanic Heritage Banquet to celebrate the culture of Latin America. Over a catered, three-course meal, more than 100 people dressed in formal attire gathered to highlight what Latin culture has brought to Baylor’s campus since 1987.
From five donated paintings located on the back wall to a handmade dress worn in Baylor’s homecoming parade next to the podium, along with each table’s centerpiece decoration having a flag of each country that HSA represents, the Barfield Drawing Room was well decorated for the event.
Houston sophmore Gabriela Fierro, event coordinator, spearheaded the event planning with a vision of each guest receiving a cultural experience.
“It’s beautiful, because whenever I was picturing everything I want it to be multicultural, I want it to show cultures from Argentina, from Chile, from Guatemala,” Fierro said. “I feel like with the decorations, the speakers, with all the background art that makes me feel really good that everyone got a cultural experience.”
As nearly 15 percent of the student population, Hispanics and Latinos make up Baylor’s largest minority group. Over a three-course meal, members of HSA‘s executive board presented some background of past presidents such as Ronald Reagan declaring Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as little-known facts such as Lyndon B. Johnson teaching Mexican-American students.
In addition to the cultural history, HSA brought in a keynote speaker to share her journey to success as a Latina.
Journalist and owner of Catalina magazine Cathy Areu said she took a while to develop and didn’t know what her post-graduation plans were but in the unknown she became stronger which helps her each day.
“I actually was a late bloomer, but it worked out,” Areu said. “I stumbled, I fell, it was a disaster and it was a rollercoaster ride, but it made me scrappy. The scrappier I got, the smarter I got and I actually achieved more than I ever thought I would. So, if I had accomplished everything that I thought I wanted to the minute I graduated then I maybe would’ve been burned out five years later like a lot of my friends.”
Areu shared stories with the audience about how she managed to land an interview with then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as well as her taking a risk and starting her own magazine.
Out of disappointment from People in Espanol continuing to mistranslate her work, Areu sold her Jetta for $15,000 and started her own publication.
“I interviewed people sometimes and they would come out in magazines and the articles weren’t right –– it was misquoted and that was my reputation,” Areu said. “I started a magazine by selling my car, which was really dumb thing to do. I was writing for People in Espanol and they kept switching my stories around. They were a new magazine, but it was also all run by people who didn’t speak Spanish. They would translate the articles to a point where they were inaccurate. It was burning all my bridges, so I decided to make it right.”
At the core of HSA, there’s a motto of “Many cultures, una familia” and Cedar Park junior Regina Villanueva, secretary, defines that phrase as being united with everyone around her.
“For me, una familia means united with everybody,” Villanueva said. “Everybody with my own personal family, my immediate family, my family at Baylor, my family back in my hometown and just everybody coming together and realizing that they’d be there for me no matter what. I know that my family here will be here for me no matter what and I can call them when I need them and the same thing with my family back home. It’s just that always having somebody you can depend on no matter what.
To Fierro, una familia means disregarding a person’s outward appearance by starting a conversation and getting to know who they are culturally.
“My version of una familia is walking throughout your life whether you’re on campus or hometown and seeing someone and not just seeing them for what they’re wearing or what their appearance is, but know that that’s a human with their own stories, their own culture, everything about them and just relating to yourself and having more humanity for those people,” Fierro said. “Going up to them being able to talk to them, spark a conversation, because everyone here in the room or in the world is part of our family. Our family of diverse cultures.”