Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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UMKC Fiesta brings students, communities together

The Student Union pulsed with music during Fiesta, a Latinx cultural celebration hosted by the university’s student organizations and Spanish department.  

Colorful decorations, like papel picado banners and national flags, hung around the room as locals and students alike took time out of their workday to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Even parents with small children joined in the activities.

For many, Fiesta holds personal significance.

“I’m really happy they’re doing this,” said 18-year-old Ray Quiñones, a UMKC freshman and chemistry major. “I think it’s the first time I’ve seen or heard of this kind of event here. It’s a great thing to bring to the university.”
Quiñones, who identifies as Chicano, said Colombian-originated cumbia was one of the genres of music he hoped to hear during the six-hour celebration.

Over the lunch hour, attendees were invited to generous portions of Mexican pan dulce (a mildly-sweet, scone-like pastry) and to participate in an informal dance lesson.

The dance demonstration was led by Arieto, a local Puerto Rican dance troupe. Arieto dancers performed for the crowd before inviting audience members to join in.

Dancers encouraged student volunteers and onlookers to participate amid laughter and a circle of raised cell phones.

“Come on! I’ve already seen you guys in the club,” one member said as students joined the dance.

The members of Arieto guided student volunteers in a style of dance called plena, a vigorous Puerto Rican dance with Taino origins. Taino tribes are Native Americans from Caribbean nations.

Yaira Velez, a member of Arieto, educated the crowd on what it means to be Puerto Rican, as well as how the Puerto Rican identity is influenced by music and dance.

“Puerto Rico is comprised of a variety of origins by the Spanish Europeans, North Africans and Taíno Natives,” she said. “Which means we come in all shades and genetic make-up. But we’re all Puerto Rican, and we accept each other.”

After the dance lesson, more treats for participants and spectators included a dreamy assortment of free paletas. These refreshments—recently popularized in North America—look like popsicles, but are created by artisans using fresh ingredients and regional flavors.

Josafat Placencia, a Metropolitan Community College student, was about to enjoy his coconut paleta when he started getting requests to bring more for the others at the table.

“I just met these guys,” he said with a laugh.


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