On Sept. 25, members of the Latin American Student Association (LASA) and students from all cultures gathered together to learn how to salsa dance to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

BY JULIANNE SAAD, Guest Columnist
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“Soup & Conversation”
For week two of Hispanic Heritage month, I joined junior Brenda Hernandez and the Office of Student Engagement for Soup and Conversation in the University Center. Paired with Picasso’s chicken tortilla soup (which was to die for, might I add) our conversation topics were generations and music.

Hernandez and I talked about what it’s like to be a second-generation Hispanic-American for her, and I talked about what it was like to be a second-generation Arab-American.

“I normally find others in my culture that are second-generation just like me, and it’s really nice to have that connection with them, and to have something that we can all relate to,” Hernandez said.

For me, I can say that most of the other Arab-Americans I’ve met throughout my lifetime are second-generation like me, and I agree with Hernandez when she says it’s nice to have something we can all relate to.

For example, just the other day, I was out shopping with my father and we ran into a friend of his from back home and a conversation instantly sparked between them. Back in Lebanon, everyone knew everyone, and since my father’s generation has come over to the United States, nothing has changed; everyone still knows everyone. My father’s friend also had his daughter with him, so I looked over her and jokingly asked, “Does this happen everywhere you go, too?” referring to our fathers constantly running into people they know from back home. It is nice to have others who can relate to that.

Our next topic of discussion was music, and how that has influenced us our entire lives.

“I can’t listen to rock in English; I like it much better in Spanish,” Hernandez said.

I asked her how Hispanic music has affected her family gatherings.

“As a family, it brings us together. It’s one of the ways we can bond.”
As a parallel, Brenda talked about how her Hispanic family reacts to American music.

“My sister had a quinceanera in Mexico, and she’s a big Ariana Grande fan, so we surprised her with her own little music video to one of her songs. When it played at the party all of my family members who aren’t normally exposed to American music kind of looked around and were telling each other, ‘Wow, this is such a cool song; I’ve never heard something like that before!’ and that’s just an example of an inverse reaction of how other cultures react to our popular music,” Hernandez said.

For me, I associate Arabic music with weddings or engagement parties, because that’s mostly where I hear it, and that’s how it’s been since I was little. So when I’m driving down Warren Avenue in east Dearborn and someone has their window open and I can hear Arabic music playing out of their car, my mind automatically goes to the memories I have as a child of when I was first being exposed to that kind of music and the dances that go along with it. It’s those kind of memories that make me really appreciative of the fun that comes along with my culture.

It is the parallels that there are between these two cultures, and every culture, that I find really beautiful. Of course there are different styles of music, different languages and different world backgrounds, but one thing is the same: the experience we all have when our families are brought together by the music, or food, or just the sake of being together. Every single culture has this strong sense of family and it parallels one another, and it’s just those small difference in culture like food or music that make every culture unique, and to me that’s really beautiful.

“Salsa Night”

On Sept. 25, members of the Latin American Student Association (LASA) and students from all cultures gathered together to learn how to salsa dance to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The event at The Union at Dearborn was absolutely amazing. The room was filled with beautiful decorations, chips and salsa and diversity.

Partners were paired off and the night had begun. Our instructor for the night, Maria Maldonado (a senior studying international business), and her partner, Matt Snella (the vice president of LASA and a junior studying international studies), made the art of salsa dancing look easy. Unbeknownst to me, Maldonado and Snella had just met that evening, yet they had this amazing chemistry, which seemed to rub off on all of the other couples in the room. Maldonado had also learned how to salsa dance this time last year, and now she’s using her developed skills to teach others something that is important to her.

There were couples that had never met before and then there were couples that were married and totally comfortable around each other. I have to give thanks to my amazing partner for the night, Luke Sabella, a sophomore studying microbiology, who I had never met until that night. As expected, at first it was a little awkward, just as it was for some of the other couples in the room. Neither of us had ever salsa danced before and we were both a little nervous, but as the night went on we started to get much more comfortable around each other, and it was really, really great. I walked into the room completely terrified because I was going in there alone and totally jumping out of my comfort zone, but I walked out of the room with this sense of accomplishment and happiness, thankful that I had gone and had had a great time.

Salsa dancing is important to Hispanic heritage as belly dancing or the Dabke is to Arabian culture.
“I didn’t grow up as a traditional Puerto Rican, and I didn’t get to know a lot of my culture when I was younger, so salsa dancing and other types of Hispanic traditional dancing is a way for me to get in touch with my culture and do something that I enjoy and something that I’m good at,” Maldonado said when I asked her why salsa dancing is important to her. “It is a part of my heritage. Just like food is a big part of culture, dancing is also a huge aspect of it, so I love that it’s fun and that it’s a good workout, and I love how I can use it to get in touch with my culture as well.”

I also got the chance to talk to the president of LASA, Laura Sanchez, a senior studying international studies. I asked Sanchez why Latin American dancing is so important to her.
“Dancing is a way to connect with other people at weddings and family gatherings and quinceaneras and it’s just really fun. I love dancing and I love the music because it gives me a chance to hang out with my friends and to really get in touch with my culture and have a really good time,” Sanchez said. “I’m really excited about how many people showed up tonight, there’s so many students from different cultures and it’s so great to see them come together.”

As for me, I was a dancer for twelve years. I did ballet, tap and jazz, and like Maldonado, it was something that I really loved, and still do, and going to Salsa night reminded me how much I really love to dance. As a child I would go to weddings and engagement parties and think to myself: “I can’t wait to dance because I can show off all these things I learned in class.” But it wasn’t until a little later until I learned about the cultural dances that are to be done at weddings, and then I really got the chance to incorporate something I really loved into my culture. With my cousins, I would learn how to my move my hips a certain way, and how my arms were supposed to go, and it was a really great bonding experience, as well as a chance to express this side of me that some of my family had never seen before (a side that I’m really proud of).

Dancing in any culture is an important way to connect with others, and the culture itself. And like Sanchez said earlier, it’s great to see people of all cultures and different backgrounds coming together to have fun, and maybe even try something new. Thank you to LASA and the Office of Student Engagement for putting on such a wonderful event. Experiencing other cultures and trying new things is so important to me. As much as it scares me to jump out of my comfort zone, I’m so thankful that there are chances to do so like Salsa Night, and that’s one of the beauties of the whole collegiate experience, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. There’s always something new to try, and so many ways for students to get involved.

Join us this week on Wednesday Sept. 30 for Hispanic Heritage Month Trivia, on the UC stage 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.