Community is something that has always been extremely important to
me. I felt a sense of community, whether it was in my town, family or school. However, there was always a part of myself I was not as familiar
with. Living in small-town Iowa provided less diversity and opportunities for me to become in touch with half of my heritage. For the longest time, I only knew bits and pieces of my culture.

I knew where my family was from and where we all are now, but I was too young to understand what everything meant in terms of specifics and traditions. Before I was old enough to be curious about who I was, my great-grandparents, who knew so much about my family, passed away.

I regret never asking more questions, but I value every moment we spent together. While I couldn’t learn the specifics of the traditions from my family, I set out to learn more on my own. I first went to the Iowa Latino Heritage Festival last fall term.

My first experience there was almost indescribable. I saw so many new things and learned an incredible amount about myself and my family’s traditions. This festival inspired me to dig deeper into the history I did not know.

In doing so, I was able to visit my family’s hometown while speaking almost all in Spanish. Being able to connect with others about my culture while speaking a language that is so heavily tied into my identity made me feel a sense of community again.

This year when I attended the festival I had a good grasp on who I was, but there was so much more to learn about the other Latino
cultures. I listened and watched as young dancers around the age of 10 wore bright colored dresses or pitch black suits.

They danced together so gracefully and for a moment I envied them. I wished I had been able to be in touch with my culture at that age. But after a short moment of jealousy, it was soon replaced with happiness.

They were able to experience their culture loud and proud among hundreds of other people who did not know their culture,but were willing to learn and grow with them.

For some people at this festival, it was their first time learning about any Latino culture and for others it was an opportunity to learn about the other traditions of Latinos.

In total, 22 countries were represented at the festival. I was lucky enough to have the chance to learn about one of them. As I sat at the main stage, a group called “Brazilian Beats” began to set up their performance. The group wore white shirts and a color skirts that twirled with almost every move they made.

They announced they would be performing dances that were present in traditional Brazilian culture, playing music on Brazilian instruments and capoeira, a combination of martial arts, acrobatics and dance that was created by enslaved Africans in Brazil.

They began their dance and I watched intently, focused on their movements.

They moved so effortlessly, it was as simple as walking for them but all the while they had big grins on their face. Once they were done, the head of
the group said something that really stuck with me.

He mentioned that in “Brazilian Beats” community and building community is extremely important, not just at their dance studio it’s also within the whole Latino population. I thought about it. I was here with a group of people who were willing to learn about multiple other cultures and try new things.

At the same time, I was with a group of people who were more than willing to share their culture so other people could enjoy and understand
what we value. We were all trying to build a community together with
the common love of amazing food, loud music, beautiful dances and a
desire to learn more.

There is only so much anyone can learn in a classroom and I will say I have learned a lot. However, the opportunity of learning about my culture and others is something you can’t learn within four walls.



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