Noche de Cultura, the closing event of USC’s Latinx Heritage Month, kicked off Wednesday at USC’s Founders Park with a powerful dance by Danza Azteca Toyaacan followed by joyful music from Mariachi Los Troyanos de USC.
The event drew more than 1,200 attendees, who watched performances, visited various community booths, participated in raffles, and enjoyed free food, desserts and aguas frescas.
But the tone of the four-hour event wasn’t completely celebratory. Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, one of several speakers that day, had healing on his mind in light of the turmoil and scandal that has engulfed Los Angeles City Hall in recent days. A recording of racist, bigoted and crude remarks about Black, Jewish, Armenian, Indigenous and gay people made at a meeting between three councilmembers and a labor leader — all Latino — had become public, sparking widespread outrage, including condemnation from the White House.
“Words can hurt people,” Rodriguez said. “Words matter when people get disparaged. That hurts all of us. And this is a time for new words, a new way of thinking, a new way to heal.”
The poet said there is an opportunity in this current crisis to ask, “Can we create a new and better Los Angeles?”
“We need it,” he declared. “We’ve been fighting for it for a long time.”
Lifting up everybody
Before reading his poem “Grime and Gold,” Rodriguez encouraged the students, faculty, staff and alumni in attendance to focus “on lifting up everybody who needs to be lifted up.”
“We need to end racism, to end discrimination, to end homophobia, to end all the things that have held us back,” he said. “We’re at a time now to make our city and our county a place that embraces all of us, and where everybody feels we belong. This makes us rich and is what makes it really beautiful to be here.”
When USC President Carol L. Folt introduced Rodriguez to the crowd, she described him as “an amazing legend” and spoke of how moved she has been by the meaning and the soul of his work.
“Every single word gets into your heart,” she said.
Students embrace their culture
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism students Emily Marroquin and Alexander Flores feasted on pupusas with friends as they watched the music and dance performances taking place on the stage.
“It’s important to highlight not just Latinx heritage, but the Latinx heritage that is in our school,” said Marroquin, a senior. “I have friends who are in the mariachi band that just played and others who are dancing right now. It’s very nice and very comforting to see that my friends are the ones representing and that student voices are being embraced within the programming.”
Flores, a freshman, looked around the park filled with hundreds of fellow Latinx students. He said he was enjoying the opportunity to meet so many new people.
“It’s just really nice to see the school embracing Latinx heritage,” Flores said. “In a lot of your classes, you’re not seeing a lot of people that are like you most of the time. It gets a little isolating. So with these events, it’s just nice to see a community get together to just love our culture.”
USC Viterbi School of Engineering graduate student Alan Perez was pleased with the friendly atmosphere at the event and with the programming.
“It’s important that USC reinforces the Latin culture,” he said. “We feel very much at home with this environment.”
Paying tribute to a legend
Noche de Cultura also included a tribute from the nephew of the late USC tennis great Rafael Osuna, who came to play for the university after winning his first men’s doubles title at Wimbledon. Osuna won the collegiate singles championship in 1962 and was part of the USC men’s team that won the national title in 1962 and 1963. He went on to be ranked number one in the world and is considered the most successful tennis player in the history of Mexico.
Rafael Belmar Osuna, who also played tennis for USC, returned to campus Wednesday to tell Noche de Cultura attendees about his famous uncle.
“Wherever he played he had a warm smile which has melted any gallery,” he said of his uncle, who was killed in a plane crash in 1969. “Soon he was more popular in his country than any bullfighter and almost as popular outside his country, where he drew big crowds everywhere.”
Latinx Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. It began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 with a proclamation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson; in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a month, through Oct. 15.
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