KOKOMO, Ind. — There’s nothing like a fiesta to make you feel at home.
A month into his freshman year at Indiana University Kokomo, Marcelo Leiva said being invited to perform at the campus Hispanic Heritage Month fiesta gave him a stronger connection to the campus.
“It promotes diversity, and exposure to other cultures, as well as the inclusion of those who belong to those cultures,” said Leiva, who grew up in Nicaragua. “It’s a way to make the campus feel more like home, have a little fun, and understand the cultural significance of people of Hispanic origin in the United States.”
Nearly 200 people attended the September 21 event in Alumni Hall, dancing to mariachi music, sampling tacos, sweet plantains, and tamarind seasoned with chili, and taking turns hitting a piñata.
Leiva, who moved to Greentown four years ago, played guitar and sang traditional and modern songs from Nicaragua.
“It was a fun experience, especially because of my Hispanic roots,” he said. “Being part of the IU Kokomo community like this, it elevated that sense of belonging. It made me feel very comfortable and motivated to be part of the community.”
According to J.R. Pico, teaching professor of Spanish and humanities, who led event planning, the fiesta provided an opportunity to showcase culture, while also creating a welcoming environment for Hispanic students and community members.
“There was great pride in being Hispanic and speaking Spanish,” he said. “The Hispanic students felt a very good connection to the campus community. They felt they were appreciated, and their culture and language were appreciated. They felt this is a place where they are welcomed and respected.”
He opened the event with historical background on Hispanics in America, going back to the 16th century, when the Spanish settled at what is now St. Augustine, Florida.
“We’ve been here for many generations, before anyone else came, other than the native people,” Pico said.
Chancellor Mark Canada also welcomed attendees, greeting them in both English and Spanish.
Pico was proud of the diversity of the crowd and the event, with highlights from Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Chile, and Spain. There were activities for families and children, including coloring pages and a game of Loteria, as well as a dance class to teach salsa, merengue, cumbia, and bachata, with music by Mariachi Azteca.
“I was impressed by how many stood up to join,” Pico said. “Dance is part of our culture. We learn how to dance when we learn how to walk.”
Hunter Jackson, a junior from Indianapolis, said events like the fiesta create unity in the community.
“It’s good to spread culture around, and get awareness, and be open to other cultures,” he said. “Instead of creating barriers, we’re creating more togetherness.”