Here at Muhlenberg, cultural expression is not only accepted with open arms, but embraced and celebrated. As with so many other organizations in the community working to bring more diversity and cultural inclusion to the greater Lehigh Valley area, Muhlenberg itself has taken strides within its community to make a difference. There are a number of vastly different programs working to represent the school’s diverse population in a number of different ways, and some of the most prolific of these are student-run clubs and organizations. The impact being made by these clubs and organizations is all-encompassing, with an expanding influence that is turning heads at various cultural events around town.
The bottom line: Making a difference doesn’t take an army. It only requires a few people to make a serious change, and that’s how Muhlenberg College students Dalissa Duran ‘21 and CJ Funes ‘22 feel about the work they’ve accomplished through their organization, Comunidad Latinx. Duran and Funes use a series of engaging community activities in order to spread awareness about their heritage and to allow others to enjoy the lifestyle that has allowed the identities of so many of their fellow students to blossom here on campus.
Funes, the treasurer of Comunidad Latinx, explained that “often times we [Comunidad Latinx] will put on entertaining movies, such as Real Women Have Curves, Under The Same Moon and In the Time of the Butterfly, to assist in sharing the larger impact of our roots in the entertainment industry.” With the entertainment industry so high in demand in the current climate of American society, the group brings to the forefront an increasingly popular medium in illustrating the large quantity of social innovations which have served to benefit the Hispanic community.
Funes also described an earlier project in which the organization placed physical representations of Central America, the Caribbean and South America in Seegers Union to attract the attention of those passing through.
Sept. 15th through Oct. 15th marked the celebration and observation of Hispanic Heritage Month, and following a number of community engagement events, including these film screenings, Funes, Duran and their colleagues in Comunidad Latinx decided to go even bigger for the final event of this season. This past Saturday, Oct.19th, Comunidad Latinx hosted Baila Con Nosotros, meaning Dance With Us, in the Miller Forum from 10:30pm until 1:30am. During this time, snacks were served, and a roaring celebration erupted throughout the Forum, featuring popular electronic and party-friendly dance music in Spanish.
Duran, the club’s president, referred to Baila Con Nosotros as “a big, final celebration of Hispanic Heritage month.” Even with the heavy commotion surrounding Arts Marathon this Saturday, a large number of people came out to show their support for the incredible work that Comunidad Latinx had done to promote inclusivity on campus. “I just want people to have an amazing time celebrating the culture that I’ve been passionate about — that we’re all passionate about — with us this weekend,” said Duran. “That’s what it should be about: having fun and creating an experience worth talking about.”
Duran then went on to explain how personal these events and Comunidad as a whole were to her and how much they have shaped her experience at Muhlenberg. “The club and the party and the things we’ve been doing are ways to represent myself. I put my heart into it, and I want my peers to see that and embrace that with me.” Baila Con Nosotros took the party and rave culture associated with the activity preferences of college students and created a safe, nurturing environment where the fun element of a classic music-and-dance party became associated with positive messages and education about the intricacies of Hispanic heritage. It became something of a window into a culture unfamiliar to some students and celebrated similarities and differences within the context of the textbook American college experience.
In addition, both board members spoke about how the communal expression of their culture speaks to the principle of culture as a narrative and how the group is trying to weave together a story based on how they want to represent themselves to their classmates. “It’s really important to have so much support from the school and from the student body,” said Funes. “It really speaks to what the people here value and how worldly Muhlenberg students and faculty truly are.”
When asked about the future of the organization, Duran explained that there is one main goal that is driving herself and her fellow members of Comunidad Latinx: “I want to make the future infinitely more transparent here on campus,” she affirms. “I dream that every single person here will be able to appreciate every culture for what it brings to the table, and for all of us to be kind, be brave, and learn from one another.”