Latin@ club throws cultural dance for first time in five years

The Latin@ club celebrates Taco Tuesday, a cultural event that educates students about Latin heritage through its food. The mission of Latin@ is to provide an opportunity and space for cultural immersion that promotes diversity and Latin American heritage for both members and nonmembers of the Latin community. Photo courtesy Andres Escobar

The Latin@ club celebrates Taco Tuesday, a cultural event that educates students about Latin heritage through its food. The mission of Latin@ is to provide an opportunity and space for cultural immersion that promotes diversity and Latin American heritage for both members and nonmembers of the Latin community. Photo courtesy Andres Escobar

Westminster students will have the opportunity to learn how to salsa and bachata and then put their skills to the test at the Bailemos dance on March 23.

The name of the dance derives from the Spanish word “bailar,” which means, “to dance.” The word “bailemos” puts the word into a command tense, translating to “let’s dance.”

“It’s inviting people to come dance,” said Andres Escobar, senior communication major and president of Latin@. “We want it to be an inclusive dance. If you don’t know how to Latin dance, like me, you can show up and learn a few steps and actually put them into practice.”

The dance will have an instructor to teach students how to do popular Latin dances.

“A lot of people say Americans dance really interesting,” Escobar said. “We just wanted to showcase another cultural dancing. For us, the Latino culture is really sociable. We are really amiable people, and I think our dance represents that well.”

The mission of the Latin@ club is to provide an opportunity and space for cultural immersion that promotes diversity and Latin American heritage.

“We divided our forces into two aspects of the club, which is on-campus and off-campus,” Escobar said. “Our goal on campus is pretty simple: just to raise awareness of Latino culture and provide inclusion and a safe spot for students who self-identify as Latino or are interested in the culture. For the past few years, we’ve had members and even officers who don’t identify as Latino or aren’t Latino at all. A lot of people are just interested in the culture.”

We want the club to be a support system for students of color and the Latin American community, but we also want the school to be more supportive of people of color and different ethnicities and backgrounds. The school itself has done a very poor job of having a support system of people of color and different heritages, so it has a lot of room to grow and has a long way to go, but at least it is starting to.
— Luis Ruiz, executive officer of Latin@

About five years ago, the Latin@ club threw a similar dance to Bailemos, and it was a huge success, according to the club’s officers.

“It was pretty large,” said Luis Ruiz, junior political science and global studies major and executive officer of Latin@. “The school, I guess for understandable reasons, did not allow the club to have another dance because it was too big. Five years? That’s a-whole-nother generation of students.”

This year, the club was allowed to bring the dance back, but only if there were some changes. Security and chaperones will attend to make sure the event doesn’t get too rowdy.

Latin@ tried to hold the new dance in October to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, but it was pushed back for multiple reasons.

“People didn’t necessarily want a dance around that time,” said Escobar, Latin@ president. “They saw it as a replacement to the Halloween dance and that people would act the same way.”

This year, the annual ASW Halloween dance was canceled because of bad behavior at past Halloween dances to the point of being a liability, according to Sarah Hirning, ASW.Events president, in a previous Forum article.

Other reasons the Dia de los Muertos dance was canceled was time and resources.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that it is a really big undertaking to do any legitimate event on campus,” said Ruiz, executive officer of Latin@. “It was a matter of needing time to promote the event and the resources financially to do it. We needed to push it back because realistically, it wouldn’t have been as effective or fulfilled its purpose well if we did it so early.”

Ruiz and Escobar said they are excited for Bailemos and encourage students to come and learn more about Latin culture. Ruiz said the purpose of the dance reflects the goal of the club of being an inclusive and educational place.

“It provides a safe space for everyone to get to know [Latin] culture,” he said. “We want people to take us seriously because we have serious desires for this club and the community on campus.”

The Latin@ club celebrates  educates students about Latin heritage through its food at a booth in front of the Shaw Student Center. Through events such as the Bailemos dance, the club hopes to see growth and become more autonomous, providing a support system for students of color and the Latin American community on Westminster's campus. Photo courtesy Luis Ruiz

The Latin@ club celebrates  educates students about Latin heritage through its food at a booth in front of the Shaw Student Center. Through events such as the Bailemos dance, the club hopes to see growth and become more autonomous, providing a support system for students of color and the Latin American community on Westminster's campus. Photo courtesy Luis Ruiz

In the future, Ruiz said he hopes to see the club grow into a self-sufficient and autonomous group that has a stronger support system from the college.

“We want the club to be a support system for students of color and the Latin American community, but we also want the school to be more supportive of people of color and different ethnicities and backgrounds,” Ruiz said. “The school itself has done a very poor job of having a support system of people of color and different heritages, so it has a lot of room to grow and has a long way to go, but at least it is starting to.”

The college is currently in the process of creating a new executive-level diversity position to help with this problem.

“Our goal is to have this person hired and on campus sometime between July 1 and when fall classes start,” said Lisa Gentile, provost.

Gentile said that a committee is still working on a title as well as a leadership prospectus, which will be decided upon shortly.

Two weeks ago the college also announced and held a meet-and-greet with the new student director of diversity and inclusion on Mar. 5 for the staff and faculty. The new director is Daniel Cairo and he is joining Westminster from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Cairo served as assistant director at the Campus Advocacy Network, where he focused on education and outreach. His focus is on providing comprehensive education and training on issues of interpersonal violence.

Ruiz, executive officer of Latin@, said that it’s a good start, but the support system won’t be established right away and needs time to integrate. He said that whoever fills the position will be good to have as a source to help spread awareness of the club and its goals.

“If we need somebody to support us on a decision that the school doesn’t really take us seriously for, we’d like to have somebody understand why we want to make a certain decision or do a certain event,” Ruiz said. “Like I said, there hasn’t been much of a support system here, other than Tim Carr [education professor]. Tim Carr has been exceptional in allowing us being able to have the space to have our club meetings after we got kicked out of the Diversity Center. And second, he’s also given us a lot of good guidance and mentorship in order to be a successful club.”

After being asked to find a new place to hold meetings other than the Diversity Center, Latin@ now meets in Malouf 111 on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., where anyone is encouraged to come. For those interested in attending Bailemos, the dance will be held on March 23 in Payne Gymnasium from 7-10 p.m. and is free with a student I.D.

“I think it’s definitely great for people to get involved with our activities because they will learn a lot of stuff that they didn’t know,” said Escobar, Latin@ president. “There’s stuff that interests everybody, and there is definitely things that we do that get people’s attention.”