By Priscila Korb

Illuminated by a bright spotlight was a long table draped in a white cloth, on which sat a small pink cake. Twinkling string lights hung from the ceiling, lighting all but the side of the room where the guests’ dinner sat waiting in steaming metal containers on buffet tables. The Black Box Theater had been turned into a party room for the night, with plain round tables set up for guests and room cleared for dancing.

Nineteen-year-old Olivia Sanchez was 15 again, for one more night, on Oct. 12.

The chatter died down once Hand College Residence Hall Director and a member of the Hispanic Heritage Month committee, David Iboy’s voice boomed, “A Quinceanera is like a sweet sixteen, but when a girl is fifteen.” He then handed off the microphone to Lisette Nunez, a sophomore political science major and resident assistant of Hand College. Nunez spoke about some of the traditions involved in Quinceaneras, including the ‘changing of the shoes,’ which is when the birthday girl switches shoes with the help of the loved one of her choosing to signify the changing from girlhood to womanhood.

Sanchez, a sophomore psychology and Italian double major and residence assistant in Hand College then entered from the back, wearing a long, strapless light pink ball gown–the same one she wore to her actual Quinceanera four years earlier. As Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” played over the loudspeaker, Sanchez walked to the center of the room, dancing, clapping and smiling the whole way.

She then sat down on a metal folding chair in front of the room and the music stopped. Everyone was silent for a minute as Sanchez looked around confused. Suddenly, to Sanchez’s surprise, her parents, Jorge Sanchez and Gloria Basualdo-Sanchez emerged from the back. Her father helped her with the changing of the shoes while her mother took a shiny tiara and placed it gently on her daughter’s head, another Quinceanera tradition.

This was just one event in a series to honor, celebrate and raise awareness for Hispanic Heritage Month. Other three events are, a Latino trivia program to teach facts about Latin America, Latino Café, a safe space where anyone can come to practice their Spanish in front of others, and Latino Vote, a discussion of political issues that appeal to Latinos, according to Iboy.

Afterwards, the night was filled with dancing, eating and good times. Members of the Ballroom Dance Team dressed in red and black performed and later taught the party-goers some traditional Latin dance moves. Latin food and cake were served and dance music played throughout the night, keeping guests on their feet.

The guests then took a break from dancing, as Sanchez once again stood in the middle of the room, this time with the cake by her side. She announced the names of those she wanted to thank, such as her mom, her dad, Iboy, Nunez, the Hand Hall Council, the Ballroom Dance team and more. One by one, those whose names were announced walked to the center to light a candle on the cake and hug Sanchez.

Iboy came up with the idea for the program last semester.

“I wanted to do a program that hasn’t been done yet, and I wanted to do something that would be fun on a Friday night,” he said.

As a brother of Phi Iota Alpha, Iboy is very involved in the Hispanic community and said he is always supportive of students and considers himself “pretty in touch” with the student population.

“Not everyone is Latino. You don’t have to be Latino to be a part of it. It makes our campus more diverse,” he said, to which Nunez and Sanchez agreed.
“We [Hispanics] are the minority,” said Nunez. “The school has a lot of diversity and it makes me comfortable in my surroundings. It allows us to connect with other cultures.”

Tony Fratto, a junior health science major, did not know anything about Quinceneras before this event.

“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I think it’s important to learn just to be diverse. Not everything is about you.”

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