Latin Student Association holds a cultural event to discuss the Latino experience in Canada.

Photos by Lisvet Parra, Emilio Freire & Camila Jenkins
Photos by Lisvet Parra, Emilio Freire & Camila Jenkins

On November 26, the Latino Student Association (LASO) had its first cultural event of the year. It consisted of a panel that discussed the Latino experience in Canada, traditional dance performances, and delicious Mexican food.

LASO is best known for celebrating Latino culture through music, dance, and parties. However, LASO executives, Emilio Freire, Lisvet Parra, and Daniel Elizondo, wanted to do something different for this event. The Executive Board of the club hoped to cater to those in the Latino community on campus who may be less keen on partying, and also connect to the larger Latino community in the Okanagan.

After the ceremonial land acknowledgement, the event started off with a live music presentation, which included UBC Okanagan professors Hugo de Burgos and Francisco Peña. With their band, they treated the panel to some Flamenco tunes.

Photos by Lisvet Parra, Emilio Freire & Camila Jenkins
Photos by Lisvet Parra, Emilio Freire & Camila Jenkins

Afterwards, Dr. Hugo de Burgos began the panel with an inspiring personal story of his journey in Canada. The story touched on the Canadian medical system’s discrimination of immigrants and refugees, on feelings of isolation and depression, but ultimately overcoming all these challenges to establish a Latino identity and community in Canada that leaves Dr. de Burgos feeling proud.

The panelists included both professors Hugo de Burgos (El Salvador) and Francisco Peña (Spain); Natalia Peñuela Gallo (Colombia), Spanish sessional lecturer, Master’s student, and activist; Associate Student Recruiter and Advisor, Susana Baez (Colombia/Ecuador); and entrepreneur and founder of the Okanagan Latino Association, Saúl Gómez (Mexico).

Elizondo moderated the panel, which consisted of 10 questions ranging from the panelists’ definition of family to their difficulties adapting to life in Canada. The audience was also encouraged to ask their own questions, which were answered at the end of the panel.

There was one particularly interesting question that I wanted to share in this article: How has living in the Okanagan changed your perspective on your own culture? Peñuela opened the panel’s remarks by talking about positionality. Since our community had never held an event like this before, it had not been possible to start difficult conversations about the Latino experience in Canada and how racism is intrinsically attached. If we acknowledge this, Latinos can start to build better support systems while abroad. Baez spoke to a different side of the issue. She recognized how privileged we all are just because we can study and live in this country; this privilege comes with the responsibility of not reproducing systems of inequality back in our home countries.

All in all, the panel was eye-opening, for both Latinos and non-Latinos attending the event. Most of the discussions centered around uniting the Latino community through culture and language, the challenges of immigration, and hope for the future so that we may continue to build friendships and bonds through events such as this one.

When the panel finished, it was time for the food. The caterer was Ki’bok Mexican Restaurant and Café, who provided a delicious sample of their beef, chicken, and veggie tacos, with two very distinctive Mexican drinks, Horchata and Agua de Jamaica.

Photos by Lisvet Parra, Emilio Freire & Camila Jenkins
Photos by Lisvet Parra, Emilio Freire & Camila Jenkins

To end the event, there were dance presentations from Peru, Colombia (Somos Colombia), and Mexico. Each presentation was introduced with an explanation of the origins of the music and dance that were about to be performed. With all their colour and rhythm, the performers had the audience dancing along.

As a Latina, I can honestly say that during and after the event, I felt a deep connection to my culture that I had failed to feel for the past two years. The sense of community that cultural events can foment is invaluable and I cannot wait to see what this new executive LASO team comes up with next.