ALANA hosts concert to celebrate diversity

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Las Cafeteras, featured above, from Veracruz, Mexico performs at the annual ALANA Jam. The student-organized
event was created three years ago to give a voice to minority cultures through food and performances at Vassar. Photo By: Cassady Bergevin

Considered one of the major events organized and executed by the ALANA Center, the annual ALANA Jam took place on the Fergusson Quad on Sunday, April 21, bringing in a diverse group of artists and local food caterers on campus. The five-hour event invited and attracted students and community members of different ethnicities, cultures and values to celebrate diversity and cultural expression.

The ALANA Jam was first proposed by the executive board of Poder Latino, a student organization dedicated to promoting Latino/a culture three years ago.

When asked about why it wanted to create such an event, president of Poder Latino Fernanda Martinez ’14 said it was spurred by student interest. Martinez explained in an emailed statement, “It is essentially an event planned by students for students. I think the purpose of ALANA Jam is to showcase the ALANA Center and its organizations, and make sure our presence is felt by the Vassar community.”

The idea of celebrating minority cultures in the Vassar community  was quickly hailed by other ALANA Center affiliated organizations. Media Chair of the Asian Student Alliance (ASA) Catherine Zhou 15’ noted a similar intention.

“[Hosting this event] is a way to bring together all the organizations in the ALANA Center and open up to the campus. The artists we invite speak to the issues related the ALANA organizations,” she said.

Despite the fact that ALANA Jam originated from only one of the Alana groups, the final success of the event was based on the collaborative work from indivuals both inside and outside Vassar.

Co-facilitator of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/0 de Aztlan (MEChA) Guillermo Valdez ‘15 stated that a little bit of each ALANA organization was represented in the day’s events.

Additionally, he noted that to reduce the burden of the featured band Las Cafeteras’s travel fees, Vassar and other colleges in the region pooled their resources, with each college indivdually paying the band’s appearance fee.

“[The ALANA Jam] wouldn’t have happened if we, as MEChA, hadn’t formed alliances with other MEChA Groups along the East Coast.”

The biggest difficulty that Poder Latino encountered in organizing the ALANA Jam, as Martinez recalled, was the lack of funding from VSA. “But each individual organizations involved put in money as well, so the problem came to be solved in the end,” she said. She stressed that without resources from other ALANA organizations, this event would not have existed.

The ALANA Jam organizer’s effort paid off as audiences expressed their appreciation of the event. Assistant Professor of History Quincy Mills who attended the event commented on the overwhelming success of the festivities.

“ALANA Jam brings all students together to celebrate culture, creativity, the arts. Dance, spoken word and music are fabulous ways to celebrate humanity,” he said.

Mills also appreciated the commitment and organization ALANA Jam requires. “The organizers are to be applauded for this work,” Mills noted.

Students also noticed the dedication of the affiliated organizations. Khine Thant 15’, an international student from Myanmar, said, “I find the live concert really interesting. Although I am already part of a minority,  I have never experienced the culture of another minority. So ALANA Jam gives me a perspective into another culture that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

One of the most noticeable  features of this event was the music it employed to convey cultural and political ideas. Las Cafeteras, the featured band from Southern Veracruz, sings about their cultural experiences. Noting that the band uses music to tell stories, Valdez summarized his feelings on the condition of Latin Americans: “We’ve been told our stories aren’t important.”

He argued that the social structures that oppress minorities are made up stories and that speaking out to counter these oppressive narratives is essential. For Khine Thant ’15, songs that blends modern political problems into melodies of folk songs are foreign.

“I have mixed feelings about those songs. Modern thoughts and traditional folk songs might reflect each other, but the time difference just make the two incompatible when combined into music”, she stated.

Besides large events like ALANA Jam, the ALANA center also holds weekly meetings for minority group students to voice their opinions. Martinez defined Poder Latino as a safe space for students who identified themselves as Latino/as or those interested in Latino culture.

And Martinez was quite impressed with all aspects of ALANA Jam. “It’s really hard to pick one part and call it my favorite,” she said. “But if I had to pick, it would definitely be the performances. ALANA Jam is a space for performance that wouldn’t usually be seen on campus.”

When asked about his own experience with MEChA, Valdez answered that he had often felt an uncomfortable separation from American culture.  “MEChA was the outlet that told me me, ‘You can be as good as anybody else.”

He mentioned that soon after the ALANA Jam, MEChA will move on to plan a May Day rally which plans to teach local youth how to tell their stories.

May 1st, International Workers’ Day, is a highlight in the push for both workers’ rights and rights for immigrants, two causes which Valdez said are inextricably linked.

The good turnout of this year’s ALANA Jam also provided involved students with high expectations of next year’s event. “This is a relatively new event, it’s buzzing and getting momentum. I am very excited and confident to see that it will do better in the coming year,” Martinez said. “My only hope is that ALANA Jam remains a traditional event.”

Zhou also stated that ASA will continue to support ALANA Jam and she hoped that this event will gain more influence in Vassar community so that more people can start paying attention to minority groups and their cultures.

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