The aroma of traditional food and the sound of upbeat music welcomed a more-than-100-strong audience to Thursday night's opening reception of this year's Latino Heritage Month.
The lively reception, featuring performers, speakers, music, and food, underscored the different theme this year's event organizers are planning: "Estamos Aquí: Building Upon Our Latinidad."
In previous years, the focus of Latino Heritage Month activities at Columbia was on the Latino community striving toward success. This year, co-chairs Jessica Reyna, BC '17, and Maria Grace Maes, CC '17, said they hope to show both the fight for success as well as existing achievements of the Latino community.
"We wanted to showcase the state of where Latinos are now. We wanted to show there are Latinos that are successful, but also show there are still some who are striving," Reyna said. "We wanted to show the whole picture."
The month's events include a talk about HIV/AIDS in the Latino community, a screening of an immigration documentary, and a discussion on Afro-Latino identity.
Maes also hopes that this year, people will see the diversity that exists in the school's Latino community.
"We want to allow these voices of dynamic diversity to speak for themselves and not to impose one experience on another," Maes said. "That's why we invited other people from our community to speak to those experiences."
Speakers at Thursday's reception included faculty from Barnard and Columbia, staff from each school's multicultural affairs offices, and students. Keynote speaker Eljuri, a New York-based singer-songwriter and activist, also performed some of her songs.
Born in Ecuador, Eljuri spoke about her life growing up as an immigrant in New York City, her love of music, and her hopes for the future of the Latino community.
"Find your own voice and nurture it. You are not the future, no—you are the now. You have to act, and you have to help others act. You can be a leader. Our strength as Latinos rests in our numbers," Eljuri said.
Eljuri emphasized "estamos juntos"—we are together—in her speech.
Renya echoed Eljuri's message, citing unity within the Latino community on campus as a major goal for the month.
"We want to unite the Latino community on a campus-wide setting just because there are little pockets of Latino groups specific to their cultures, their place of origin," Reyna said. "This month is a way for them to come together as one unit."