Students who attended Portland State’s first Latin Night were given an inside look at the tastes, sounds and customs of Latin America. The event, held in the Smith Memorial Student Union on Friday, brought roughly 250 people together to dance, eat and learn about the array of Latin American countries represented in PSU’s diverse student body.
Students who attended Portland State’s first Latin Night were given an inside look at the tastes, sounds and customs of Latin America.
The event, held in the Smith Memorial Student Union on Friday, brought roughly 250 people together to dance, eat and learn about the array of Latin American countries represented in PSU’s diverse student body.
The event was hosted by Las Mujeres de la Raza, a student group that focuses on the needs of Hispanic, Latina and Chicana women by uniting and empowering women of all nationalities and ethnicities.
“There is a really strong Latin community here on the PSU campus,” explained Rosie Zuriaga, a junior social work major and codirector of Las Mujeres.
“We wanted to organize an event highlighting different areas all across Latin America, to bring these groups together and celebrate our diversity and community.”
Zuriaga’s comments were echoed by PSU President Wim Wiewel in his opening address to the attendees at Latin Night.
Latino student enrollment at PSU has increased 99 percent over the past five years, according to Wiewel. This, he explained, makes PSU the top Latino-attended university in the state of Oregon.
“An event like this totally reflects our priorities here at Portland State,” Wiewel said. “This may be the first Latin Night, but I’m sure it will not be the last.”
After the president’s address, PSU’s Latina Dance Club took to the floor in a flurry of red shirts and swirling skirts. After their first dance, students ran into the crowd and brought unsuspecting onlookers onto the stage for a rousing rendition of “Cachondea.”
In addition to an evening of entertainment, Las Mujeres created an educational expo, lining the room with posters and interactive tables featuring tidbits about the diverse countries that make up Latin America, including Brazil, Puerto Rico and Guatemala.
Business major Hector Villegas manned a table with information about charreria, an equestrian sport that has flourished in Mexico since the 16th century. According to Villegas, charreria has grown as Mexico’s national sport, slowly making its way into southwestern America.
Wearing the outfit of a charreria participant, Villegas tied his love for the sport with his opportunities at PSU and extolled the importance of events like Latin Night.
“I think PSU needs to embrace the diverse groups which constitute our university, and the pride we have in it,” he said. After graduation, Villegas hopes to set up his own business in the equestrian world.
Many of the celebrating students were just as enthusiastic about their opportunities as students at PSU.
Juan Ramirez, a senior in the psychology department, explained his desire to return to Mexico after graduation, either as an intern or educator.
Linda Roman, codirector of Las Mujeres, plans to attend law school after she completes her political science degree at Portland State.
Roman seemed unable to stop for a breath all night, as she was flanked by friends and acquaintances from the moment she left the stage to introduce Wiewel at the beginning of the event. Still, it didn’t seem to faze her.
“It was very important to make this evening very family-friendly and interactive,” she explained. “We want everyone to feel welcome. That is an important part of Latin culture: being inclusive, and well-fed.”
But even as food vanished from plates, the sense of inclusiveness continued to float through the air, carried by the music of Grupo Raices and Dina y Los Rumberos, as a mix of faces and personalities blended into a cloud of celebration.
It was a reminder to all that considerable strength in a student body like PSU’s lies not only in new educational opportunities but also in an acute awareness of the diverse culture it encompasses.
Wiewel reminded everyone of that sentiment as he finished his opening remarks on Friday: “Here, you represent not just yourself, not just your family, not just the university, but the future of this entire region.”