City, University Latino groups celebrate culture
New Brunswick is home to 50,000 residents. The Latino population accounts for 40 percent of the New Brunswick population in comparison to an average of 13 percent in other New Jersey cities, according to the United States Census Bureau.
To serve this community, New Brunswick hosts a number of Latino groups to spread their culture and further organizational works promoting issues surrounding education, healthcare, immigration and civil rights for immigrants, said William Ayala, Executive Director of the Latino Health Institute associated with the Latino Leadership Alliance.
One group in particular, the Latino Leadership Alliance, provides community service opportunities for students and New Brunswick residents to help Latinos within the area.
“The Latino Leadership Alliance is an umbrella group,” he said. “It’s really an organization of organizations of local community groups throughout the state of New Jersey that are Latino-based.”
The overall purpose of the Latino Leadership Alliance is to give a collective voice for all these individual community groups and provide a forum for these groups to come together to address statewide and national issues that impact the Latino community, he said.
Ayala said the Latino Leadership Alliance organizes various events to promote Latino-related topics, including a Latino Health Summit on Oct. 22 that will address health disparities in the community.
But the Latino influence is not isolated to the city. It also extends into the University realm with a Center for Latino Arts and Culture (CLAC), said Sandra Rocio Castro, associate director of the Center for Latino Arts and Culture.
The center looks to research, document, interpret and promote Latino, Hispanic, Caribbean and Latin American arts and culture. It also works to advance the appreciation and understanding of Latino artistic production, scholarship and cultural studies through various events, she said.
Castro said CLAC will celebrate Latino and Hispanic heritage month in November and will highlight independence for Puerto Rican culture and Hispanic students as “trailblazers” for culture at the University.
“It’s been kind of hard to feel connected to the culture here,” said Casey Nova, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. “The only time I did was when they had the Hispanic society open house at the Rutgers Student Center. I just spent the whole afternoon feeling at home.”
Nova said an important part of the Latino culture was music and dancing, and the event exemplified that along with music and food.
Castro said it is important for people to stay in touch with their culture, especially students at the University.
“I think it helps them keep their identity, where they come from and to really know the contributions that their parents and ancestors made in forming this country,” she said. “It also makes you a better-grounded citizen when you go out into the real world to be bilingual and bicultural. It’s actually an advantage.”
Castro said other ways for Hispanic students to stay connected are through involvement in the various departments on campus, including the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Center for Latin American Studies.
She said there are many aspects to Latino culture and that people’s roots contribute to their diversity.
“We are very diverse,” she said. “We’re very family oriented and we have strong work ethics.”