A Spanish version of Be My Baby blasted over loudspeakers as several hundred waited for the festivities of Entra a la Plaza to begin Friday night. While they waited, some had their faces painted, and others bounced around in the inflatable obstacle course. The aroma of cheese, beef and spices filled the air as the line that stretched the length of the Hunter Welcome Center courtyard finally started moving, kicking off the annual event with a feast to remember.
Entra a la Plaza, hosted by student organization Hispanos Unidos, drew a crowd of more than 500 throughout a night full of entertainment. The evening was a blend of music, dancing, food and fun that gave the Abilene community a chance to experience authentic Hispanic culture.
Catered by ARAMARK, the fiesta featured a buffet of chicken, beef and cheese enchiladas, refried beans, rice and sopapillas, accompanied by rows of cinnamon milk called horchata, three varieties of agua fresca, iced tea and water.
Ballet Folklorico, a dance group from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church near ACU, brought three troupes of dancers to perform traditional Mexican dances. Dressed in customary multicolored Mexican dresses and ponchos, the young boys and girls of St. Vincent’s put on a performance that had the audience cheering and clapping along to the rhythm. Maria Sanchez, a dancer from the senior group, said the dances and bright outfits represented culture from different regions of Mexico.
“The pee-wees dressed for the state of Michoacán, the juniors represented the Yucatán region and the seniors dressed for the state of Jalisco,” Sanchez said. They performed to classic regional songs such as Jarabe Tapatio, Guadalajara and La Negra, to name a few.
A live mariachi band, Mariachi Real de Abilene de Jose Chavez, got the audience dancing with classics like “La Bamba” and “Stand by Me.” Piñatas came next. Children waited in a long line to take a swing at the giant orange star hanging in the courtyard while Hispanos Unidos officers sang the traditional piñata song, Dale dale dale, until a boy named Isaiah finally busted it open. The college students’ piñata only lasted a couple minutes.
The night ended with audience dancing. DJ TAZ loosened up the crowd with classics like Cupid Shuffle, Wobble, and The Electric Slide before unleashing an energetic mix of salsa, bachata, cumbia and merengue music for those who were willing to try more cultural dances.
Itzel Garcia De Alba, public relations officer for Hispanos Unidos, came dressed in a traditional outfit from Jalisco, a white lace, knee-length dress with hot pink bands embroidered with colorful llamas. She said she believes Entra a la Plaza did its job educating others about Hispanic culture and inciting interest in Hispanos Unidos.
“Essentially, Hispanic culture is about coming together just like everyone did on Friday, through food, music, dancing, and laughter. I would really enjoy having more guests come dressed in any sort of traditional Hispanic clothing, I think that would be lots of fun,” De Alba said.
Ana Arango, president of Hispanos Unidos, said the goal of Entra a la Plaza is to raise awareness of Hispanos Unidos and the Office of Multicultural Enrichment. The organization wants students to understand Hispanos Unidos’ purpose, rather than see it as the group that puts on the Mexican event with free food every fall.
“Hopefully it will just keep growing, to the point where we can actually partner up with various Hispanic restaurants and businesses in Abilene and show everyone how prominent Hispanic culture is throughout Abilene,” Arango said.
The event took months to plan. Preparations began in April, when the date was set and the Welcome Center was booked. At the beginning of the fall semester, Hispanos Unidos began booking the caterers, bounce houses, DJ, performers and face painters.
Arango said not only did Hispanos Unidos wish to provide a fun night of cultural enrichment for students, but they also hoped the night would create a place of familiarity and comfort for students who have come from Hispanic-dominant areas. Speaking Spanish is not a requirement to become involved, nor is a Hispanic heritage.
“We aren’t trying to become a Hispanic cult. Instead, we want people to come explore and enjoy our cultureÂ,” Arango said.
ACU sophomore Lakin Carpenter attended the event for the first time Friday night, new to the culture and not sure what to expect.
“I knew a little bit about Hispanic culture before, but not much. My favorite part was definitely the dancing. It was cool seeing how their culture celebrates and the different colors and dresses they wear,” Carpenter said.
Arango said she hopes to have more Hispanic countries represented next year, as this year’s event was somewhat dominated by Mexican culture.
“The only thing I wish we had the resources to better address is educating people that Hispanic is not equivalent to Mexican,” Arango said. “In Texas, Hispanic tends to automatically translate to Mexican, when it encompasses so much more than that. The word Hispanic applies to all Spanish-speaking countries, as well as the Portuguese-speaking ones.'”
Arango considered the event a huge success and hopes for larger audiences in the future, once Hispanos Unidos starts making a bigger name for itself.
“I definitely think Entra a la Plaza does a good job of reminding people, especially on ACU’s campus, that while the dominant ethnicity may be Caucasian, there is a lot of Hispanic culture around, too.”