After a month of cultural celebration, the University of Michigan’s Latinx Heritage Month 2021 celebrations were brought to a close Friday night in a celebration with food, music and words from guest speakers.
Latinx-influenced music, the sweet smell of pan dulce and words of reflection from the University’s Latinx community filled the Michigan League Ballroom. The closing ceremony brought together over 100 attendees to talk about their interpretations of this year’s theme: “Florecemos de nuestras raíces” — “We bloom from our roots.”
LHM was created to expand upon Hispanic Heritage Week, a commemorative week initially established by the federal government in 1968. During LHM — which is now observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — seven Latin American countries all celebrate the anniversaries of their independence.
LHM festivities at the University commenced on Sept. 15 with the opening ceremony. Throughout the month, Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs sponsored more than 20 other educational and celebratory events. Some of the LHM events also commemorated other Latinx holidays and traditions, including Lotería and the upcoming Día de los Muertos exhibition.
University President Mark Schlissel opened the event with a brief statement about the contributions of the Latinx community to the University. Schlissel thanked students for using their voices to make the community more equitable and inclusive for all.
The event featured keynote speaker Norman Antonio Zelaya, a Latino author and poet from San Francisco. Zelaya read excerpts from his 2017 book, “Orlando and Other Stories,” which includes a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories set in the Mission District of San Francisco.
As he read, Zelaya provided the audience with additional context about the main themes in his works. He specifically commented on his childhood memories and how they have contributed to the exploration of his Latinx roots throughout his life.
“Most of my family from Nicaragua is older, and they’re dying,” Zelaya said. “And I want to go back to visit to talk to them, to meet them, to listen to them. I need to document their stories before there’s no one left to tell them anymore.”
MESA program manager Jesús Galván encouraged attendees to use the pens and small paper journals provided at each table to write about what this year’s LHM theme means to them. Galván also invited participants to discuss their main ideas with the community gathered around them.
“What seeds and roots have been planted over the last month?” Galván asked attendees. “What will these seeds blossom into?”
The event also featured various student performers. Music, Theatre & Dance senior Javier Torres played “Rapsodia Borinqueña” on violin, LSA sophomore Jessica Ramirez performed “baile folklórico” — a traditional Mexican folk-style dance — and LSA freshmen Jacquelyn Wrubel and Daniela Castillo sang musical selections. Ashley Lucas, director of the program in Latina/o Studies and Residential College professor, also performed a monologue from her original one-woman play “Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass.”
Wrubel sang “Everything I Know” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “In the Heights,” which focuses on the Latinx community in New York City’s Washington Heights. As a part of the University’s LHM celebrations, there was a “talk back” following a screening of the movie adaptation of “In the Heights” on Sept. 21.
Though the closing ceremony was the only LHM event Wrubel attended this year, she said being able to connect with the Latinx community through music was particularly meaningful.
“My family’s from Puerto Rico, and so, of course, I love to combine the culture I have and my love for performance together,” Wrubel said.
Castillo said the songs she sang and played on the guitar for the crowd also carried a special meaning for her. Castillo performed a contemporary arrangement of “María Bonita”, a piece originally released by Mexican composer Agustín Lara in 1946.
The arrangement’s unique blend of traditional and modern musical styles, Castillo said, connects with this year’s LHM theme of “blooming” from her past “roots.”
“This music was stuff that my grandmother and her sisters would have grown up listening to, so this is a very personal thing,” Castillo said. “I always feel connected to them when I play.”
Castillo emphasized how powerful it was to be in a room with so many other members of the University’s Latinx community. Castillo said attending the closing ceremony was unlike any other experience she had prior to attending the University and said she felt honored to be a part of the LHM festivities.
“Having grown up in a predominantly white community, a lot of Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month (celebrations), for example, were just kind of overlooked,” Castillo said. “To be in a space where we’re commemorating our differences, our beautiful diversity within our Latinx communities here, is really special.”
Daily Staff Reporters Roni Kane and Paige Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.