Celebrating Hispanic Heritage at Upper School Assembly

Chapel was filled with the sound of vibrant music. To celebrate Hispanic and Latine culture, leaders of the student affinity club Unidad hosted an Upper School Hispanic Heritage Assembly on September 28.

Director of Student Life Jared Winston opened the program by introducing a performance by pianist Felipe Santiago ’26, who played a beautiful improvisational coritos medley [coritos are short hymns]. “I would say that the inspiration for the music I played was my Hispanic heritage,”  said Santiago,  “and also a very big part of the music I played was my faith, as in my Christian Pentecostal church, we normally play lots of coritos, which are in Spanish, and that is how we worship God. Worshiping God is very important to me, and so I try to reflect that love of God through my piano playing. When I play, I try to play with my heart and give the piano 200 percent.”

Unidad Shares Hispanic Music
Julissa Velazquez and Cinthya Sanchez dancing

Next, Winston introduced three members of Unidad, a student affinity group that celebrates Hispanic culture. Unidad’s role, explained Julissa Velazquez ’23, “is to share our culture to everyone as well as get respect for it. Hispanic/Latinos are severely unnoticed and neglected, in my opinion. The reason being that a lot of people don’t consider us a race or ethnicity. When we are asked these questions, we never know what to answer and we constantly have to forget our heritage to fit into these norms. It’s clear that we are not seen. I, along with the rest of Unidad, want to change that. We bring a lot to the table. We have amazing food, we have outstanding music, we have so many different cultural traditions to explore, and above all, we have history. If we continue not to be seen or heard or respected, we’ll be forgotten. Unidad is an amazing group of people. I feel everyone in the affinity is a leader. Together, we won’t be invisible any longer.”

Velazquez, Cinthya Sanchez ’23, and Alfonso Rada ’23 focused on the importance of music in Hispanic/Latine culture as they described the genres of Salsa, Bachata, Meringue, Reggaeton, Latin Pop, and Latin Rock.

They described Salsa as a ”blanket term for various Cuban genres” originating in the 1960s and 1970s. Examples of popular Salsa artists and bands included Willie Colón, Eddie Santiago,  Celia Cruz, Grupo Niche, and Los Adolescentes.

Rada shared audio files of “Dos Locos” by Monchy y Alexandra (2002), two Dominican bachata artists, and  “Abusadora” by Wilfrido Vargas (1981), a Dominican merengue artist.

Reggaton, they explained, originated in the 1990s in Puerto Rico influenced by Reggae, a Jamaican music genre. Popular artists and bands include Tego Calderon (Puerto Rico), Daddy Yankee (Puerto Rico), Bad Bunny (Puerto Rico), Karol G. (Colombia), and Rosalia (Spain).

Latin Pop features songs such as “Como La Flor” by artist Selena, while Latin Rock has its origins as a subgenre of Latin American, Caribbean folk, and rock music. Popular artists include La Oreja de Van Gogh and Enanitos Verdes.

Celebrating Their Culture Through Dance

Finally, Velazquez and Sanchez donned white flowing dresses to dance the Finale Folklore, which was Ecuadorian Folklore and Bomba Puertorriquena. Velazquez said they were both “fun dances that hit close to home for Cinthya and I.”  Velazquez learned about Bomba dance recently. “It was really fun and I decided to learn more after taking a class in Puerto Rico.”

“Bomba is native music that was produced by slaves in the sugar plantations and till this day is shown to express stories and experiences from our ancestors,” Velazquez said. “We are taught to never forget our roots as boricuas, another term for Puertoricans. I never want to forget where I am from and I feel Bomba dance is one of those things that I can always use to remember and share my heritage.”

“The last dance we did had two parts and two songs,” explained Sanchez. “The first song and part was an Ecuadorian Ballet Folklorico danced to the song Allku Ñawi. I learned about this style of dance when I visited Sevilla, which is where my great grandparents used to live in Ecuador. Our visit was to attend Las Fiestas de Sevilla and watch artists and dancers, see bull fights, and stay up until the sun rises. The second part of the dance was Puerto Rican Bomba dancing choreographed by Julissa and danced to the song Laure. Our dances are pretty different in regards to posture and feeling. Ecuadorian folklore is slower and has softer movements, while Bomba has quick and strong movements. I was so happy to learn how to dance Bomba and Ecuadorian folklore, as well as honored to present it to Poly’s Upper School.”

Their Upper School classmates responded to the performance by clapping in time to the music and offering enthusiastic applause when they finished.

Velazquez then asked the students and faculty to remember the people of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Fiona, with many Puerto Ricans especially still living without electricity. She shared a list of nonprofits accepting donations for assistance.

“We use music to tell stories, tell our history, to unite as one.”

When asked afterward what she hoped students took away from the assembly, Velazquez said, “I hope Upper School walked away with the idea of how important music is to us as Latinos. We use music to tell stories, tell our history, to unite as one. Hispanics/Latinos are kind of a gray area. We come in all different races and nationalities and flags… but music, it’s something all of us have in common and it’s something no one can really take away because truth in music is everywhere and can be made of anything. That’s really the takeaway I wanted Upper School to have and I encourage all of them to explore our culture and our music.”

Sanchez added, “I hope that my peers learn that there is so much more to my culture and identity than what is mostly shown on Western TV. Artists who are very popular and well known in Latin America can also become well liked in the United States. I hope I was able to show how fun, energetic, and catchy Latin music is!”