Before coming to Lehigh, Tiffany Valencia, ‘25, lived in Southern California, surrounded by her Mexican-American family and peers.
Once she arrived to campus, she said this fundamental part of her identity blossomed with new diverse perspectives as she met students of varied Hispanic descent.
“(Hispanic culture is) bigger than I was ever used to,” Valencia said. “Leaving home, you learn so much about your culture and how much it means to you.”
Now, as co-president of the Spanish Club, Valencia said she, alongside other members of Hispanic clubs at Lehigh, works to create an environment for all Lehigh students to learn, feel empowered by, and participate in the array of Hispanic cultures present on Lehigh’s campus, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Hispanic Heritage Month began on Sept. 15 and lasts until Oct. 15, during which many clubs on campus provide opportunities to celebrate their cultures on campus — such as Tumbao, a Latin-Carribean dance team.
“I feel like sometimes, at a predominantly white institution, it can be hard to fit in,” Tumbao co-president Chancie Velasquez, ‘25, said. ”We have members that say (during) the half an hour we practice, we feel like we’re not at Lehigh, it feels like we’re at home.”
Valencia said Spanish Club also attempts to create this sentiment by having meetings consisting of activities such as making ethnic dishes and hosting relevant discussions on Hispanic issues. Members often request for particular multicultural events and meals to feel more at home on campus.
For the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, she said the club hosted a showing of the film “Nacho Libre,” alongside elote with toppings such as sour cream, mayonnaise, and queso cotija, which together makes a Mexican-style street corn featured in the movie.
Conversations arose before starting the film that co-president Marissa Argen, ‘25, said were so engaging she and Valencia did not want to start the movie until it concluded properly.
“A key theme we’ve been talking about is that there’s so much diversity within the term ‘Hispanic,’” Argen said. “It’s important not to generalize and to take the time to learn about everyone.”
Argen said for future meetings, she and Valencia aim to further focus on these kinds of conversations.
Tumbao, which performs a wide range of Hispanic, Latinx and Caribbean dances, also prioritizes differentiating several cultures’ versions of dances and the origins of each.
“One of the things we emphasize is knowing what you’re dancing and why you’re dancing it,” co-president Leysa Vasquez, ‘25, said. “Colombian dances, for example, are very Afro-based.”
The group’s next performance will be at the Office of Multicultural Affairs’s Hispanic Heritage Month Festival on Oct. 12.
According to the office, Mariachi Rey Azteca will perform, diverse food options will be provided and preferred cultural attire is welcomed.
Vasquez said Tumbao will be trying new dances and making further efforts to focus on unexplored Central American styles, alongside having its first performances of the Mexican style of the Colombian Cumbia dance, which comes from Latin and African folkloric instrumentation and dance, according to NPR.
Also for Hispanic Heritage Month, Tumbao plans to have themed practices where members would dress up as their favorite Hispanic artists.
These clubs and events are also open to those who are not Hispanic or Latinx. The Spanish Club and Tumbao have non-Hispanic members who are equally passionate about the clubs’ missions.
“It’s not just for Hispanic people. We want everyone to learn about our culture,” Velasquez said.
Other cultural organizations at Lehigh have also expanded the opportunities for celebration outside campus grounds.
The Latinx Student Alliance, which aims to bring Latinx awareness to the local community, attended Latinx Fest at Lafayette University on Sept. 15. The festival provided food, live music and activities like a mechanical bull ride.
Valencia is heart warmed having watched the Spanish Club grow since her first year. She said while the club makes sure to celebrate Hispanic culture all year, Hispanic Heritage Month is an especially great opportunity to do so.
“(Hispanic Heritage Month) is a time we’re able to celebrate Hispanic achievements and our loving, fun culture,” Valencia said.