More than 300 students, alumni and family members gathered at the Marvin Center Saturday night to celebrate the 10th anniversary of GW’s Organization for Latin American Students.
The festivities, which ran until well past midnight, included traditional musical performances, dancing, poetry reading, theatrical monologues and a feast of Latin American food.
“The event is an indication of the growth of OLAS over the past 10 years and also the dedication of the members, past and present, who made it possible,” OLAS Co-President Paulina Abaunzo said.
This year’s celebration, called Noche de Cultura, was dedicated to Imette St. Guillen, the 2003 GW graduate and forever OLAS member who was murdered in New York City in February. St. Guillen’s sister was in attendance on Saturday as a guest of honor.
The organization announced at the event the start of a fundraising effort to establish an outdoor memorial, possibly a rose garden, to honor St. Guillen. Organizers hope to raise $100,000 in tax-deductible donations by 2008.
The evening began with a dinner of Latin American cuisine and a moment of silence for St. Guillen led by her friend Erica Pi?ero. OLAS members and alumni performed six musical, theatrical and dance performances, and the group announced next year’s executive board.
OLAS was founded in 1996 as a way to foment an organized community for Latin American students at GW and to raise awareness of Latin American issues, said senior Carla Martinez, event chair of Noche de Cultura and vice president of OLAS.
OLAS, originally called Latinos For Progress, was created to give Latin Americans at GW a place to come together, as there had previously only been groups focused on foreign-born Latinos, said Elvira Ramos, a GW alumna and co-founder of OLAS who attended the celebration.
Martinez credited the passionate OLAS members and their stand to create a unified Hispanic community at GW as its catalyst for success. Last year, OLAS was awarded the Student Activities Center’s Pyramid Award for student organization of the year; the group has 84 dues-paying members, but Abaunzo reports unofficial participation of about 300 students.
Rudy Alvarez, an OLAS alumnus in attendance, attributed OLAS’ success to its ability to give students a Latino family away from home.
Noche de Cultura began in 2001 as an annual celebration of different aspects of the organization and Latin American culture. This year OLAS made Noche de Cultura free and open to the public.
Abaunzo said, “This year Noche is trying to emphasize a greater community in the D.C. area.”