Vista Convocation highlights women in Latino culture

Vista opened its celebration of Latino Heritage Month with Convocation on Friday. The event featured poetry, music and dancing – all performed by students. The theme for this month’s celebration is Latinas On Top.

Although this gender-specific theme might appear to exclude half of the Latino population, the event tackled issues that are germane to the experiences of all members of the Latino community. The theme was chosen to expose a side of the Latino community of which people are not traditionally aware. “The decision to make the theme of this month Latinas on Top came from the largely unrecognized contributions of Latina women,” said Nina Smith ’05, a Vista board member.

The purpose of the annual convocation is to celebrate the start of Latino Heritage month. Each year, a new theme is chosen to emphasize a specific topic currently concerning the Latino community. Isabel Sanchez ’03, Vista Secretary, said that convocation is different every year because “different people organize it and also because times change and issues differ. For example, two years ago, the Latino Heritage Month was much more political because we wanted to get a Latino Studies program in Williams.”

This year, Convocation served as a source of entertainment and a forum for understanding different Latino/a experiences at the College. Juan Baena ’06, the freshman representative to the Vista board, said that greater insight into Latino culture is one of things he hopes students gain from Latino Heritage month.

“I think the most essential element I’d like the student body to gain from Latino Heritage Month is a sense that our culture is very welcoming and to get educated about various misconceptions there are out there,” Baena said. The event highlighted serious issues that the Latino culture might face while keeping a light attitude.

Two skits captured the changing role that Latinas have had in recent history. Both featured a family with a mother, a father and three spoiled daughters. In the first skit, the mother walked around with a broom as she made sure the housework got done while trying to convince her daughters to help her. The first skit used the character of the mother to convey the role that was expected of women of all cultures in the United States until women began to play an equal part as providers in the household.

The second skit presented the same family many years later. There was not much change in the family’s interaction; the father still complained, the mother still carried the broom around the house and the daughters were still spoiled. But the position the daughters have in society is much more prominent than that of their mother’s. The middle daughter became a political activist; the youngest daughter became a Jennifer Lopez-like entertainment mogul who sings, acts and produces and the oldest daughter became president of the United States.

The extremely accomplished daughters still bickered, but for different reasons. Many things changed in the lives of the daughters, but some things remained the same, like their mother’s anger when they spoke English at home.

The skits were intended to give the audience a chance to reflect on the Latino journey to become a part of American society.

More personal experiences of many students were presented in the form of poetry. Yamnia Cotes’ ’06 “Our So Called Civilization” expressed an apparent “regress” American society is facing. Smith’s “Lazaro” paid homage to a relative who deeply impacted her view of life. The poems also allowed students to share their feelings with those who are not familiar with being a minority. Convocation also included a speech by the keynote speaker Norma Lopez ’95, assistant Dean of the College. Her speech discussed her life as a minority student at the College and dealt with the some of the same themes currently facing Latino students.

A different subject Lopez addressed was that of being captured in a “Mexican Bubble.” She pointed out that it is possible to be part of the College and never meet anyone outside a particular culture, but that this is something everyone must fight against. Facing diversity, in her view, is to step outside one’s bubble and interact with the wealth of cultures that are part of the College.

The event’s coordinators felt that the convocation successfully espoused the “Latinas on Top” theme. “[The] theme tries to capture all the achievements and the power that Latinas have nowadays, said Ana Martinez ’03, Vista central coordinator. “It talks about how we are taking important roles in the society and how we were able to come a long way to be now a vital part of not only American society but also about the society of our countries of origin.”

Convocation is only the beginning of Latino Heritage Month; Vista still has many other activities planned. The club is organizing activities such as lunch forums, dance workshops, and hosting stand-up comics to spread knowledge about the Latino community and have fun. “I hope that coming out of the month they [the College’s students] will have a better understanding of the diversity of Latinos and not lump us all together,” Sanchez said. The Convocation introduced this topic by featuring more than one aspects of the Latino community. In many ways, Vista members feel, the multicultural aspect of Latino community parallels the College’s own community and makes it very important for everyone to understand the celebration of each person’s unique background.

“Celebrating Latino Heritage Month is important not only for Latinos on campus, but also for the campus at large,” Sanchez said.