The Black Student Union (BSU) and El Centro Latino, along with other student associations, organized the Afro Latino festival to raise awareness of an unfamiliar culture in Latin America, the Afro Latinos. The event organizers, David Joseph, president of BSU, and Francisco Enriquez of El Centro Latino, started the festival with a documentary explaining Afro Latino heritage and ended the event with a cultural Afro Cuban dance Workshop, instructed by Reinier Valdes. Through this cultural festival, Enriquez hopes “to bring the cultures together, celebrate, and have fun.”
The Afro Latino festival began with the screening of the documentary, “Black in Latin America,” at Carlson Theatre. The documentary is a four part series written and presented by a Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. which educates viewers about the African influence on Latino culture. During the screening, students were shown “Mexico & Peru: The Black Grandma in the Closet,” the fourth installment of the documentary series. It analyzes the Afro Latino cultural infusion in Mexico and Peru by explaining the history of Africans in Latin American countries and their acclimation into society. Through his travels around Mexico and Peru, Gates illustrates racial diversity in interviews with various Afro Latino descendants. Gates also concludes that because the African culture significantly influenced the Latin American culture, many Latinos may come from an Afro Latino lineage. Nevertheless, racial prejudice still exists in Latin American countries against Afro Latino culture, and Gates hopes to relieve this prejudice by raising awareness of culutral diversity.within Latin America.
Following the documentary, an open panel discussion was led by social sciences professor, Dr. Sabrina Sanchez, and English professor, Fernando Pérez. When asked about the most surprising information from the documentary, many students agreed that the prevalence of the Afro Latino culture in Latin America was quite intriguing. Furthermore, some students agreed that the media was definitely a major influence on people’s perception of race. Pérez also added, “Many Latinos are now trying to understand their own heritage, and some are connecting with a European background.”
Finally, the event was concluded with food and a cultural Afro Cuban dance. The instructor, Reinier Valdes, excited the students with fast paced dance routines that often incorporated lots of hip shaking and body rolls. Initially, the students were shy and reluctant to participate, but by the end of the event many were enjoying the rhythmic Cuban dance.
According to Enriquez, the main purpose of this festival was “to teach the Bellevue College community the Afro Latino culture.” Joseph explained that inspiration for the festival initially “came from the documentary, ‘Black in Latin America,’ but, Francisco had a genius idea of making it more like a festival, incorporating the cultural food and dance, making it fun for students.” Because there are more infused cultures in Latin America such as the Asian Latinos, “the possibility of other cultural events exists,” according to Enriquez.
Joseph concluded that, “it’s important for BSU and El Centro Latino to focus on ways to show what different cultures have in common. It’s about bridging the gap.”