The Latin American Community at Essex

Creating a Home, far from Home

Through parties, cultural celebrations and important sociopolitical discussions, the Latin American community on campus has come together and built strong, unbreakable bonds.

The University of Essex has a diverse community of students coming from a variety of backgrounds. One of these, although often overlooked, is the Latin American community; large in numbers and rich in culture. Like most international students, Latinos must build a new life, having to find new connections and friendship, leaving behind their loved ones across the Atlantic. Throughout the year, we’ve come together through various activities, strengthening the bonds we’ve formed and supporting each other.

One of the many things Latino students are united on is how much we miss music, dance and our culture. Aside from the fun and joy that may come from dancing to your favorite songs, it is also the significance of a what this shared experience with people from similar walks of life represents; something that is not present when moving to a new country.

“The Latin nights were very fun, full of energy, dance. Latin Americans and non-Latin Americans enjoying, dancing and sharing culture, music, dance steps. There aren’t places that play Latin music from time to time and it was very impressive to realize how much I needed it without knowing it”, shares Nadya, and exchange student from Mexico, on her experiences with the Latino Nights at the SU Bar.

She also spoke about the first Latin American Mixer in first term, leaving Mexico and embarking on this new, and emotional, journey:

“It is difficult to get to a completely different country, thousands of kilometers from home and realize that you are alone, that all your friends and family are on another continent. (..) In that first event I met many people who were in the same situation as me, but we discovered that we were not alone, that we had a lot in common and we got to make a great friendship and feel less far from home, and I realized that I was not alone anymore.”

Rosa, a second-year Law student from Peru, echoes this sentiment, sharing how these events helped her to adapt to her new life in the UK:

“Establishing connections, friendships and being able to adapt to our new life here has been much easier and more bearable; both to be more in touch with our culture and mental health

The Latin American Society also focused on diversifying the types of events it hosted, stressing the importance of having discussion regarding Latin American politics, media and social issues; topics that can be divisive but are necessary conversations to be had.

Bringing to the forefront Latin American struggles (…) is incredibly important. There have been a number of times where I’ve mentioned riots, armed conflicts and/or the effects of gentrification, and British people seem either amazed to think that it’s a part of our everyday life or don’t how it’s detrimental” says Camila, a Peruvian psychology student. She also stresses how important it is for people to educate themselves on these issues:

“I’ve had non-Latino students tell me they are excited for reggaeton night or excited to learn salsa and bachata but are unaware of how those styles of music and dance come as a way of ‘rebelión’ during times of dictatorship and wars. We are happy to share our culture and are very welcoming, but refusing to talk about the politics, culture and significant events happening in Latin America is an active decision to pick and choose the aspects of Latin America that best fit their perception”

The society also hosted a collaborative event with both the Public Speaking Society and Rebel, in which participants were tasked with improvising speeches about the most pressing issues in Latin America, as well as personal stories.

“I found this crossover to be an enriching experience because not only did it allow us to explore different Latin American topics from the perspectives of students from different Latin American countries, but it also gave participants the opportunity to improve their public speaking skills. (…) Spaces like these can be valuable in aspects of communication and sharing between different cultures”, tells Sofia, a first-year student from Colombia

One of the most meaningful experiences for the community was, without a doubt, the Day of the Dead celebration in Square 3, where students came together to organize an Ofrenda.

Dia de Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday taking place on the 1st and 2nd of November that celebrates the life of those who have passed; a festivity that reunites families with their deceased loved ones for a few nights.When asked about the cultural significance of this holiday, Sofia, a third-year student from Mexico, said the following:

These traditions give families an opportunity to get together and celebrate the lives of the people that are no longer with them. Several towns in the state I’m from are known for the way they celebrate this festivity. I’d missed that. I’d missed seeing people celebrating their loved ones and the sense of community that came from events like this

She also emphasised how meaningful it was for her to be able to share this piece of her culture with the community at the university:

“It helped me feel connected to a part of my culture that I hadn’t thought about in a while. I loved being able to teach people who didn’t grow up with this tradition what it was and why it was important. I’m glad the Latin American Society gave us the opportunity to showcase this part of Mexican culture”

The Ofrenda received multiple visitors throughout the day. Students from all backgrounds came and hung pictures of their loved ones, helped decorate it, and generally got involved in the activity; striking an emotional chord with a lot of them.

I printed a picture of my cousin who died in a plane crash, my dog who had passed a month earlier, and my grandmother whom I didn’t get to see before she died. I was moved by the beauty of paying tribute in such a way and for me it was a cathartic moment since I never got to say goodbye to them. Seeing their faces next to the ofrendas and the flowers, really made it feel like they were somehow there with me”, remembers Laura, a third-year student from Colombia. She continues:

“That day I think I cried more than all of our members combined, being filled with a mix of emotions encompassing sadness, joy, guilt, nostalgia, excitement, pride, and above anything else, LOVE. Love not only for rendering tribute to my loved ones but also on behalf of everyone who was doing the same for their passed ones. The sense of community was unlike any others.”

Latin America is an extremely diverse region, with each country representing a microcosm of the beautywe have to offer. Nevertheless, us Latino students at the University are united by our shared experience of having to leave everything we know, everyone we love, and build a new life. While embarking on this journey, having these spaces and forming these connections is of utmost importance.

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