While there are many active cultures and ethnicities at UCI, many students believe that there is always more room to educate and present these cultures to the masses. This month, MEChA does just that with their annual Mes de la Raza, or month of the race, which aims to present the Chicano/Latino culture to anyone who is interested.
This year’s Mes de la Raza was kicked off by a Cinco de Mayo celebration on the Student Center Terrace and featured performances by Ballet Folklorico de UCI, Mariachi de la Playa and Paleros, the Pan American Latino Society’s salsa and merengue dance team.
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is no just a day reserved for drinking and partying and it is not Mexican Independence Day. Instead, it is held in celebration of a significant military victory in which a small, outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French army.
‘Instead of just partying and using it as an excuse to get drunk, we wanted to take the whole month and turn it into education about a race, kind of like Black History Month,’ said Joseph Macias, second-year political science major and publicity chair for Mes de la Raza.
Mes de la Raza, which is sponsored by MEChA, is a month-long celebration and education of the Chicano/Latino heritage and according to third-year studio arts major and Mes dea la Raza co-chair Norma Rodriguez, it encompasses many different aspects of the culture.
‘I would say it’s a taste of all the aspects that being a Chicano/Chicana is. There are cultural, political and educational workshops as well as events that celebrate our culture and who we are as people,’ Rodriguez said.
This year’s theme is titled ‘Empowerment Through Cultural Expression,’ and the workshops that are held throughout the month center around artistic expression and its role in Chicano/Latino culture.
Judy Baca, a well known muralist who works in the Los Angeles area and is remembered for creating The Great Wall of Los Angeles, is the keynote speaker of this event.
According to Macias, the theme of cultural expression and the presence of speakers like Baca is a positive method of showcasing the Chicano/Latino heritage.
‘We wanted to show that art is not just a luxury, but it’s also a way of empowerment, of resistance and of expression,’ Macias said.
He also commented on his personal reasons for taking part in the events.
‘I get involved because I think right now in the United States there is a driving force from mainstream society, and it tries to assimilate everybody,’ Macias said. ‘This force is telling people that they should forget their language, their customs and instead of celebrating differences, they’re actually telling us to forget our differences. I think that Month of the Race is telling us that we should embrace where we come from.’
Maritza Ramirez, a fourth-year political science major and Mes de la Raza co-chair, got involved in order to educate the community and emphasized that Mes de la Raza is not only for Chicano/Latinos, but for everyone.
‘[I] get involved because I think it’s important we educate the community about the events we put out,’ Ramirez said. ‘Even to non-Chicano/Latino audiences, we want everyone to come and to learn about our culture. It’s not exclusive to the Chicano/Latino community.’
There are events held throughout the month and all around campus that are available for anyone to attend. There is Raza Day in the Humanities Plaza, Dia de la Madres Breakfast on the Student Center Terrace, and workshops held in the Cross-Cultural Center.
In conjunction with Mes de la Raza, the Pan American Latino Society is hosting the ‘Conferencia Cultural,’ or cultural conference, from May 17 to 21.
According to Rodriguez, clubs or organizations that try to educate or promote their culture to the community are beneficial and that it is important for students to be exposed to other cultures.
‘Students, especially students from this privileged area, need to be aware of all the different cultures and issues facing the community, not just Mes de la Raza,’ Rodriguez said. ‘Many other organizations and clubs put on similar events having to do with their cultures. If you can be aware of where other people are coming from, it makes you a more understanding and stronger person.’