'Presencia Latina' Looks to Leave Mark

Presencia Latina, Harvard’s Latino cultural show, is intended not only as a showcase for Latino and Latin-American creativity but also as a means of strengthening the entire community within Harvard. The show, which will take place tomorrow, features both traditional and modern acts presented by the winners of the show’s Latino/a of the Year awards: hip-hop artist Daddy Yankee and “America’s Next Top Model” winner Jaslene Gonzalez.

The board members of Presencia Latina have been auditioning students, organizing celebrity guest appearances, and promoting the cultural show since late February. They hope that this show will open the Harvard community’s eyes to Latino culture on campus and in the greater Boston area.

“I don’t feel that Harvard recognizes the Latino community as much as other groups, and I think if people recognize this as a really huge event at Harvard then it will really legitimize anything that the Latino community might do in the future,” says Alexis M. Pacheco ’08, Co-Chair of Presencia Latina.

Fellow Co-Chair Jonathan Rosa ’08 says that the show hopes to reach out to the Harvard community through Latin-American music’s universal appeal. “I think that’s what is amazing about the Latin-American music—you can go around the world and see someone playing salsa—there can be a Mexican ballad being played in India,” he says.

Performers in the show include students of all races and backgrounds, and the board members are proud of the amount of diversity in the show. Participants range from Asian dance groups to singers who are also in Kuumba. “Not everyone is from a Latin-American background,” Rosa says. “Part of it is that they have either had an experience in Latin America or they have grown up with the culture and want to get involved in some way.”

Pacheco says Presencia Latina hopes to pull people entirely unrelated to the Latino community at Harvard to come see the show. “I think that this year, part of our intention is to bring more non-Latinos to this show,” Pacheno says. “I think this year it would be great to see a lot of unfamiliar faces.”

Faculty Advisor Luis E. Cárcamo-Huechante, an assistant professor of Romance Languages and Literatures who will be presenting the Latino/a of the Year awards, also commented on the show’s ability to act as a bridge between two cultures. “[Presencia Latina] provides a space, and a ‘stage,’ to bring U.S. Latino students and students from Latin America together, which is very important in terms of a more transnational Latino cultural vision,” he says.

Performances in this year’s show range from traditional folkloric dancing—complete with costumes—to spoken-word readings and modern candela hip-hop. “Candela hip-hop fuses the hip-hop culture with the Latin culture, and Reggaeton has become really big in the past five years,” Rosa says. “That is what brings the traditional and the modern together.”

Groups outside of the Harvard bubble, such as a Latin dance group from Boston University called Fuego, will also be performing as part of the show’s effort to reach out to the community in Boston at large. “It kind of plugs in parts of Latino culture that we can’t exhibit through our own students here,” Rosa says. “There are 21-plus cultures, and though our Latino culture and presence is growing at Harvard, it is still small.”

Director Marissa C. Lopez ’10 notes the importance of holding Presencia Latina over April Visiting Weekend in order to show incoming freshmen the strength of the Latino community at Harvard. Both Lopez and Pacheco agree that their experiences at the Presencia Latina shows they attended during their Visiting Weekends influenced their decisions to attend Harvard.

The board is proud to honor Big Daddy Yankee and Jaslene Gonzalez, two celebrities who both have strong connections with pop culture in the U.S. and Latin America. Rosa considers these guests to be two of the show’s most important aspects. “Bringing in these celebrities inspires other Latinos that they can pretty much do whatever they want,” she says. They can reach out to other Latinos in the world and make a difference.”