Williams celebrates Latino heritage

This week marks the formal kickoff of Williams Latino Heritage Month 2001. The month officially started on Friday at a Convocation held in a packed Goodrich Hall, featuring musical performances, poetry readings and discussion of the future of Latinos at Williams and in America.

The theme for this year’s heritage month is “¡Arrasando!,” which translates roughly into English as “Taking Over!” The spirit of “¡Arrasando!” refers to the growing presence of the Latino population in the life of American society and culture. In light of the 2000 Census’ projections that indicate Latinos as the largest ethnic minority in the country, “¡Arrasando!” celebrates the tremendous growth of American Latinos, both in terms of their actual numbers and their newfound political, economic and cultural influence as a group.

“’¡Arrasando!’ is a celebration of the rise of Latinos as America’s largest minority group. It reiteratres Latinos’ presence in this country,” said Christina Villegas ’04, co-coordinator of Vista.

Vista is organizing Latino Heritage Month with the support of the Minority Coalition (MinCo) and the Multicultural Center (MCC).

The Convocation opened with a rendition of Marc Anthony’s “Preciosa,” sung by -coincidently – Mark Anthony Lugo ’05. Isabel Sanchez ’03 recited Olga Echeverria’s poem, “Linguistic Algo: Speaking in Tongues.” A literary expression of the cultural clashes and crises of identity many Latinos face, Echeverria’s poem, written in Spanish and English, explores issues of bilingualism. To the bilingual English-Spanish speakers in the crowd, Sanchez’s delivery was an especially unique experience, allowing them to think in both languages at the same time as Sanchez delivered her rendition of Echeverria’s poem.

Carmen Whalen, assistant professor of history, gave some remarks on Williams’ new Latino Studies program. She discussed the importance of Latino Studies at this crucial time as Latinos are arrasando, or taking over, key segments of American society. Closing with some words from Latina poetry, Whalen stressed the need for Latinos to be “not fractured, not splintered, not confused [but] whole” as they emerge as America’s largest ethnic/cultural minority.

Following Whalen’s remarks, Yobelin Fernandez ’02 provided some comedic relief with a spoken-word rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” Treating the pop lyrics as serious prose, Fernandez’s rendition of “She Bangs” elicited laughter from the audience.

Yailyn Martinez ’03 read the poem “Poema de Renunciamiento,” a work honoring love and devotion. Martinez then danced on stage with Juan Carlos Lopez ’05 to a specially arranged “arrasando mix,” which featured several different genres of Latin music.

The Convocation’s keynote speaker was Wil Chabrier ’77, Chair of the Williams Latino/Latina Alumni Network. In his speech, Chabrier mentioned several times that he was very touched to see so many parents of current Latino students in the audience.

“From Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I was one of three – just three – Latinos in my class,” noted Chabrier. He began his speech by admitting that he initially had trouble with this year’s Latino Heritage Month theme, “¡Arrasando!” After some thought, though, Chabrier came up with his own definition of “taking over.”

“’Taking over’ reminds us of a generation of protest, civil disobedience and injustice; of the TB truck in Harlem, of taking over the office of the President of Columbia, of César Chavez. . .of activism and social upheaval,” said Chabrier. “’Taking over,’ now though, means something different. This year, Latinos are giddy as the Census has confirmed we are the majority minority.”

Chabrier went on to cite a host of statistics and projections about the growing Latino face of America. “Today, there are more than 35 million of us. We are 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population. We are 35 percent of 18 year-olds. Within 10 years, half of all first graders will be Hispanic [and] 948,000 of us have gone off to college, but only 24,000 of us have Ph.D.’s. We have $500 billion in purchasing power [and] 13.7 million of us are eligible to vote. We have 5,700 elected officials, 1,500 of whom are women. We have 20 Congress[people]. Half of Los Angeles is Latino,” Chabrier declared. He noted, though, that compared to African-Americans and whites, Latinos are underrepresented in Congress, especially in the Senate, where there are no Latinos.

At Williams, Chabrier said there had been “lots of progress” since his time as a student. The admission of a much greater number of Latino students, the hiring of Latino professors and the very existence of a Williams Latino Heritage Month altogether, convinced Chabrier that Latinos at Williams, “didn’t take over, but overcame.”

After Chabrier’s speech, the Convocation closed with an original song by India Torres, a guest of Vista, and a performance of the Puerto Rican classic, “Contigo en la Distancia,” by Violeta Archilla ’04. Under the direction of Billie Green ’03, Nothing But Cuties (NBC) closed with a dance performance of ’N Sync’s “Pop.”

Over the coming month, Vista has planned many events for Latino Heritage Month in the theme of “¡Arrasando!” They include a series of lunch forums on issues facing the Latino community, dance workshops on different Latin dance genres and seven entertainment events, culminating in a party entitled “Que Siga la Fiesta!” in Goodrich on Nov. 17.

“We hope people from all over Williams will come out and savor the rich heritage of their Latino classmates,” said Villegas, “At its core, ’¡Arrasando!’ is a celebration of who we are and what we hope to become.”