By Abby Weingarten
Evolving to fit the era, New College’s annual Latinx Heritage Month won’t be an in-person celebration with food booths and dance demos this fall.
Virtual art exhibits, streaming concerts and group discussions are instead taking center stage as the community navigates the social-distancing norms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the current state of the world, we decided to do all of our events virtually; not only is it the safest but it allows for off-campus students to participate,” said third-year New College student and event organizer Gabriela Ott. “My general goal with these cultural events is to have a balance between celebration and having serious conversations.”
The campus-wide events will overlap with National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15 annually in the United States. Ott is collaborating with New College Assistant Professor of Caribbean/Latin American Studies and Music Hugo Viera-Vargas, Ph.D., the staff in the Student Activities and Campus Engagement (SA[u]CE) office, and multiple members of the faculty on the programming.
“These events are really near and dear to my heart,” said Ott, who is Columbian-American. “I think they provide outlets for our community to come together and really explore what it means to be Latinx, especially since Latinx is such a big umbrella term.”
A gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina, Latinx refers to people of Latin American ethnicity in the United States. In recent years, New College has shifted to using Latinx instead of Latino or Hispanic to describe its heritage events.
New College’s 2020 Latinx Heritage Month lineup includes a virtual museum exhibit with Latinx student art and photography; a symposium with three different panels on the topics of “Migration,” “Latinx and Florida Politics” and “COVID-19’s Impact on the Latinx Community”; a series of podcasts; a virtual concert, including a master class of traditional Cuban music by Renesito Avich, with co-organizers Viera-Vargas and Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Jose Martinez, Ph.D.; and a Latinx movie/reading group, beginning with the screening of the documentary, Frenemies, and hosted by Associate Professor of Sociology and Caribbean/Latin American Studies Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D.
“Celebrating our culture and growing together are ideals I really try to encompass in these events,” Ott said.
Ott and fellow organizers accomplished this objective in 2019 as well. One of the highlights of last year’s gathering was a Culture Fair, which featured Latinx students serving homemade ethnic foods and DK Dance Creations instructors teaching cultural dances.
The Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO) hosted a “Latinx Identity in the Workplace” talk with local Latinx professionals/speakers such as alumna Gabriella Elmir, a biology instructor at Sarasota Military Academy; Andres Paz, owner of the multimedia marketing firm FAMA Production, LLC; and Hector Tejeda, director of education initiatives at UnidosNow.
A “Humanizing Deportation” educational event, hosted by Assistant Professor of Geography and International Studies Ilaria Giglioli, Ph.D., proved to be especially profound.
“That event had an impact on the students because it gave a face to this process of deportation. In recent years, there has been a lot of negative news about the treatment of people at the border in America, especially children,” said Viera-Vargas, adding that the event was part of a larger project funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. “This brought another perspective to the situation, and I think that’s important right now as we are going through times of intolerance toward minorities.”
Viera-Vargas sees New College’s Latinx Heritage Month as another opportunity to create dialogue around some of the most pressing issues related to race, identity and inequality in America.
“It’s a good way to celebrate, but also to think and reflect on the main concerns and challenges that the Latinx community confronts in this country,” Viera-Vargas said.
For Ott, the experience is as much about eye-opening conversation as it is about social connection.
“As a Latina, I personally love working with other Latinx students and staff during this month,” Ott said. “It makes me feel better connected within the community and brings me a lot of joy.”
For more information on the dates/times of Latinx Heritage Month events and to participate, call (614) 738-4046, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit novoconnect.ncf.edu and https://sauce02.wixsite.com/ncf-lhm
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.