Festival Latino celebrates Pan American World

As a part of last year’s Fiesta!, members of the Baylor and Waco communities came together to celebrate Latin American culture and heritage on the Vera Martin Daniel Plaza. Lariat File Photo

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

Festival Latino devotes Thursday through Saturday to events celebrating the vibrant Latin American culture present in the Baylor community and beyond.

Each day of Festival Latino will focus on a different area of student development, said Dallas junior Pablo Gonzales, marketing coordinator for the event. Thursday’s event, “Catalistas,” focused on career and professional growth, Friday’s event, “¡Parranda!”, will focus on culture and diversity and Saturday’s event, “Raices,” will focus on learning from those who came before you.

Festival Latino was born of a collaboration between the Hispanic Student Association, Hispanic sororities and fraternities and other Hispanic student organizations, and Hispanic students make up 15.5 percent of Baylor’s undergraduate population.

Los Angeles senior Josh Rizzo and Flower Mound senior Monica Luna came together last May with a vision to host a large-scale, multifaceted event to celebrate Latin American culture and include participation from the Waco community, students, faculty and alumni.

“It turned more into a community effort. We wanted a presence of Latino culture on campus,” Rizzo said. “We wanted to create an environment where culture is accepted –– particularly Latin American culture.”

This year’s theme is The Pan American World, and encourages a collaboration “To preserve and highlight the cultures of those that are proud to call themselves Latinos.”

The hashtag for the event is #momentosfl.

“Really what that’s capturing is those moments when you really define who you are and you figure out your identity,” said Hispanic Student Association president Damian Moncada. “That’s really our theme and the mission of the event.”

Thursday’s event, “Catalistas” highlighted diversity and professional development in Kayser Auditorium. The event welcomed keynote speaker David Benitez, founder and president of Dallas company Intelligent Mexican Marketing LLC. This was followed by a career fair for students.

From 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, the “¡Parranda!” event will offer a “cultural tunnel” for students to participate in a more inclusive Latin American experience. The Future Hall of Fame Room at McLane Stadium will host booths from each Latin American country, highlighting food, clothes and games from each country. The popular Mexican-American band out of Los Angeles, La Santa Cecilia, will perform at Friday’s event.

“Because were having the cultural paseo latino, [students] are really going to be able to immerse themselves in the culture, rather than just showcasing the culture,” Moncada said.

Gonzales said “¡Parranda!” was conceptualized as a revamp of Hispanic Student Association’s Fiesta. While Fiesta had traditionally celebrated Mexican culture, “¡Parranda!” will incorporate a more well-rounded immersion into Latin American culture for attendees

“We just wanted to give it a little bit of a kick a little bit of a flair,” Rizzo said. “Fiesta had a little bit of a stereotypical feel to it. We wanted to just get away from all the stereotypes and put into peoples minds that Latin America is more than Mexico. We just wanted to allow that diversity to be in place on Baylor’s campus.”

Gonzales said students of all backgrounds are encouraged to participate in Festival Latino.

“At Baylor today, we are being led by a president who is a champion for diversity and a champion for inclusion,” Gonzales said. “For students to really understand that, they should come to a space where that is being celebrated. It provides an opportunity for students to learn more about a culture that’s not theirs.”

The event will conclude on Saturday with “Raices,” which will bring together Baylor alumni and students for the launch of the Baylor Latino Alumni Network. Saturday will feature two alumni panels, one to spotlight alumni experiences at Baylor and beyond, and another to give context to the history of Latinos on Baylor’s campus.

Gonzales said 100 alumni are expected to join students at Kayser Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a time of fellowship, networking and reconnecting.

“It’s kind of following in the footsteps of the Baylor Black Alumni Network, which has been very successful in raising scholarships,” Gonzales said. “We grew from a Facebook group from about 40 people … Now the group has about 500 people in it.”

As a 1996 Baylor alumna, Macarena Hernandez, the Fred Hartman Distinguished Professor of Journalism and Hispanic Student Association advisor, felt inspired to invite fellow alumni to come back to Baylor.

“When I got to Baylor, I thought at some point I’d like to bring back people because they would be such a great resource for our students, and in turn, I think it’s important for all alumni to feel like they can always come home,” Hernandez said. “I think the way we can build bridges, especially in such divided times, is by creating spaces where people can fellowship and eat and laugh together.”