Colorful flags from various Latin American countries decorated the stage as a mariachi band serenaded the anticipatory crowd. Suddenly the room filled with rhythmic drumming as K’NAAN’s “Wavin’ Flag” began to play, and Fiesta was underway.
Fiesta is an annual celebration of the rich, vibrant Latin American culture and its presence on BYU campus hosted by Multicultural Student Services. A sacred, almost holy feeling filled the room on Friday, Nov. 5 as audience members sang along to well-known folk songs and cheered especially loud when their country’s dancers took to the stage.
This year the countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru were celebrated through student-led songs and dances. All students participated in the performances, regardless of whether they were from the country they were representing.
Thania Portillo, a student from Colorado and a member of the Caribbean team, said she’s not Puerto Rican, Dominican or from any part of the Caribbean. But because she joined Fiesta, she said she could better understand all of the Caribbean cultures and has a new appreciation for everything.
“It’s been such a good spiritual experience, and it’s been a super enlightening experience. I’ve really enjoyed being able to understand a culture other than my own,” Portillo said.
With more than 34,000 students and 100+ countries represented, BYU has a diverse body of students.
“The best part of (Fiesta) is to share the culture with BYU. I bet many people from here haven’t had the opportunity to fly to Peru or to know a lot of things about it, but it’s great for me to show the real part of me, and what is actually the best part of me,” said Diego Calderon, a Peruvian student who danced in the Peru section.
As of 2020, 6% of BYU’s student population identified as Hispanic. The Race, Equity and Belonging report released earlier this year found students of color often “feel isolated and unsafe as a result of their experiences with racism at BYU.”
“There are so many different minority groups here in Provo and at BYU that oftentimes feel the pressure of being that minority. They don’t feel like they are at home,” said Luke Sanchez, a student from Michigan who participated in the Colombian section. “This (Fiesta) is one small opportunity to be able to help them feel at home and help feel that warmth, wherever they’re from.”
Fiesta not only creates connections between members and non-members of the Latino community, but also promotes connection between members within the same communities across BYU campus. Vannesa Cahua, one of the section leaders for the Peru group, appreciates the friendships she created with fellow Peruvians.
“I chose to represent Peru because my dad is from Peru and I wanted to be able to learn more of my own culture, learn the Peruvian dances and get to know other Peruvians on campus. It was such a great experience getting to meet a new community of people, like my family away from home,” Cahua said.
Hailey Deeds, a student from Missouri and participant in the Mexico section, has similar feelings.
“I am Mexican and it’s a way for me to become closer to my roots. It’s somewhere I can meet people of my heritage and culture that I never thought I’d meet before,” Deeds said.