Social activist Felipe Luciano called on the Latino community to embrace other people of color and move forward together during the Latino Heritage Celebration’s keynote address.
“Latinos, you have a mission in this world,” he told the crowd at Betts Theater last week. “You are the future of the world and yet we run away from ourselves instead of walking into power.
Luciano, a social activist, also addressed the fluid and flexible meaning of being Latino.
“Why are you allowing others to define the definition of yourself?” he asked the crowd of students and staff.
Of Puerto Rican descent and born and raised in the Harlem section of New York by a single mother, Luciano was convicted of manslaughter in the 1960s for the fatal stabbing of a Brooklyn teenager.
He co-founded the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican nationalist organization in New York, and he was a member of the Last Poets, a group of musicians and poets that came out of the black nationalist movement. He has appeared on HBO and has won numerous awards in media – print, television and radio.
Multicultural Student Service Center and the Organization of Latino American Students sponsors the heritage month. The celebration’s goal, as Luciano said, has been to bridge the gaps that exist between the Latino community and other cultures.
“He brings a great passion and ability to connect to people. He really does a great job emphasizing the three roots concept – the Native American, black and Latino connection,” MSSC Director Michael Tapscott said. “He even expands that to include African and Asian influences. He is able to connect with people of color with valid historical influence.”
In his speech, Luciano questioned why Latinos are running away from their heritage and becoming “Afro-Saxon.” He said black people and Native Americans were in America long before the British came, but no one remembers that because they were largely killed off by Europeans.
“And yet, no one questions why a statue of Christopher Columbus is in the center of Puerto Rico,” he said. “It is an image of inferiority to the Spaniards.”
He went on, “Would a predominantly Jewish community allow a statue of Hitler to stand in the middle of their city? I am not saying that I don’t acknowledge that part of me is European, but I do acknowledge racism. I do acknowledge the Christian church decimated our populations and brought people here.”
As part of the Celebration, organizers will hold a Latino/Black Alumni Weekend Happy Hour on Sept. 28, while students will march in the D.C. AIDS walk on Oct 6. and hold a R.E.A.L. Conversations discussion Oct. 15.
“I think it’s very important to raise awareness across the GW community, and to let them know that events hosted by OLAS and other groups are not just for Latinos and blacks,” said senior and OLAS executive board member, Danielle Topper.
She added, “We want other students to come out to our events and to learn about our culture. It’s part of the educational experience. If people don’t, I really think they are missing out.”
As part of the Celebration, the men of Alpha Phi Alpha and Lambda Upsilon Lambda joined together to host a dance party, Golden Explosion, in the Continental Ballroom of the Marvin Center Saturday night.
With an estimated turnout of 400 to 500 students, the event featured hip-hop, R&B, reggae, salsa, reggaeton, merengue and bachata music and dancing.
Eric Woodard, a senior and member of Alpha Phi Alpha said, “This really started from a small group of friends from each historically Latino frat and sorority and served as a way to unify the black and Latino community, one of the main goals of the celebration.”