The Reitz’s Rion Ballroom welcomed an evening of cultural celebrations as UF’s Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off Thursday.
The Sept. 16 opening masquerade ball ceremony centralized on the idea of Nuevos Comienzos, referring to New Beginnings, and featured hypnotist Larry Greenberg, who captured the audience’s roaring laughter and hypnotized students on and off the stage.
After undergoing virtual celebrations last year, students entered the night in masks and formal attire to celebrate UF’s 28th year of hosting the monthlong festivities. Since 1993, the Hispanic Student Culture Organization has organized UF’s Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month celebration from Sept. 15 until Oct. 15.
As the largest student-run Hispanic Heritage Month, UF students plan for a year in advance to bring iconic performers and events to light. This year’s theme, “Memorias” (Memories), is a tribute to celebrating past and future memories through relatable upbringings.
The committee annually hosts keynote speakers, a 5K run, a formal pageant and an outdoor carnaval celebration. Past speakers and artist performances included prominent people like Pitbull, Jenny Lorenzo and Amara La Negra.
2020’s in-person celebrations were suspended due to COVID-19, but the same vibrant energy welcomed UF students celebrating this year’s event for the first time since in-person attendance during Fall 2019. Although attendees dressed to impress, dress attire looked slightly different with the use of face masks throughout the night.
“We need the celebration to remind us of who we are, where we come from, and to unite our people,” Genesis Melchor, UF psychology freshman, said. “We all come from so many different places; we need a celebration to unite all of us together because even though we come from different places, we all have something in common.”
Sept. 15 marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate their independence from Spain in 1821.
This year is historic for the five Latin American countries, along with Peru, which celebrated their 200th year of independence from Spanish colonization. Mexico and Chile also celebrate independence on Sept. 16 and 18, respectively, while several other Latin American countries celebrate their independence year-round.
“This opening ceremony is bringing together so many people. A lot of us haven’t seen each other in so long,” Kevin Trejos, a 21-year-old UF management masters student and Hispanic Student Association president, said. “And here you have this wonderful group of people coming together to celebrate.”
Gainesville’s Hispanic Film Festival also takes place virtually throughout the rest of September, with five short film screenings. The Latina Women’s League hosts the annual festival and has played a key role in providing access to Hispanic, Latino-based culture and art for Alachua County since 2005.
The month-long event features film screenings from international producers that portray prominent issues surrounding immigration, cultural assimilation and racial identity in the Hispanic community.
Protests in 2021 also sparked for the people of Cuba and Venezuela, two Latin American countries currently under authoritarian regimes who were liberated from Spain in 1898 and 1821, respectively. Although Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories and contributions of Latin Americans in the United States, Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans are still seeking liberation from their oppressive governments.
Oct. 12 highlights the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas in 1492 and signals the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. Some institutions have resorted to dedicating this historic day to Native Americans to commemorate their impacts after European colonizers arrived in the Americas.
Proceeds from fundraising efforts like Noche de Loteria directly support UF’s Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month’s philanthropy, Chispas, to provide scholarships for undocumented students at UF. You can celebrate locally by participating in Noche de Lotería, commonly recognized as Mexican bingo, or by celebrating at their Spanish traditional “Carnaval” hosted on Sept. 24 at Flavet Field.
Isabella Barnet is a fourth-year telecommunication student at the University of Florida. She is a proud Miami native and Cuban-Peruvian working as the editor of El Caimán. You can find her working on personal film projects, practicing Hispanic dishes, and catching sunsets at Paynes Prairie.
Kristine Villarroel is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Summer 2023 Engagement Managing Editor. She previously worked in the Avenue and Caimán desks as an editor and reporter. In her free time, she looks for dusty fur coats at antique shops and pretends not to be a hater on Twitter.