Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Erik Dutilly-Garcia’s name. It has been corrected below.
Belen Garcia, a junior at Denver’s West Leadership Academy, wore a long, flowing white dress and bright pink flowers to the left side of her hair on Wednesday to the Balch Fieldhouse at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Garcia moved to the United States from Veracruz, Mexico, two years ago, and she thinks it’s important to maintain her culture and language.
That is why she wore her flowing white dress, brought from Veracruz, to the annual Spanish Heritage, Language & Culture Day at the university. It’s the traditional dress and outfit worn for la bamba, the anthem of Garcia’s hometown that originated as a dance between two lovers.
“When I dance, I feel like I’m talking to everyone and telling my story,” Garcia said.
Hundreds of students from Denver Public Schools filled the fieldhouse for one of the main events of the day, the “ethical spectacle.”
“We really want to be reaching out and welcoming students of the Americas,” said Beth Osnes, an associate professor of theatre and director of graduate studies for the department.
Osnes helped organize the ethical spectacle as a way to “physicalize unity within diversity.” The event consisted of CU Boulder students holding separate arrows to point out different school groups as they performed unique chants about their schools and performed acrobatic feats.
When the arrows, which officials called moving murals, are brought together, they spell “unidad,” Spanish for unity. The idea of an ethical spectacle came from a book Osnes had read that talked about putting on events with the participation of those the events are for. While CU Boulder has hosted the heritage day for five years, this is the first time students participated in an ethical spectacle.
Other parts of the heritage day included competitions for speeches, poetry and cultural dancing; sharing of foods from various Hispanic cultures; and artwork from various cultures.
Adrian Juarez, a freshman at Denver South High School, said it was cool for everyone to come together and see representation of all Latin American countries that speak Spanish. Both he and fellow freshman Alexis Ramirez said they hope the event gets bigger with time, and that it catches on elsewhere.
The event was particularly important for Jacky Delgado, a senior at Denver South High School, because she said it lets students “look forward to being Mexican” in a climate that is sometimes not welcoming.
“I think the takeaway is, being yourself can mean more than being what other people want you to be,” she said.
The day began with CU Boulder students speaking to the younger students about their own experiences. Marithza Flores, a nontraditional student who is working toward a biochemistry degree, talked about not always being the best at school, but realizing that she wanted to pursue a career in dentistry.
“We are stronger than we think,” she said.
Erik Dutilly-Garcia recently graduated with a Ph.D in education research, and encouraged students to hold onto their culture.
“When I was your age, I didn’t do well in school, and I didn’t know Spanish,” he said.
While in high school, he started to learn more about the Spanish language and won a scholarship to study abroad in Bolivia. Learning the language has allowed him to speak with the people of Latin America “on their own terms,” and he’s returned for six more visits.
“I want to encourage all of you to look at your education … as a time to continue your language,” he said. “La lengua española es tu pasaporte a tu herencia,” which translates to “The Spanish language is your passport to your inheritance” in English.
David Aragon, assistant vice chancellor for diversity, learning and student success, said CU Boulder wants to be responsive to the schools in the state. More than half of the students in Denver Public Schools are Latino, he said.
“Learning is enhanced with people of different backgrounds,” he said.
Aragon said that CU Boulder shares Denver Public Schools’ goal to encourage the students to “have pride in their heritage, in their culture and in their bilingualism.”