According to Lesley Gamez '07 of Presente "Viva La Raza" roughly translates into "Long Live the Race." This phrase is historical, and refers to the rich traditions of cultures from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and, to some extent, Spain, Gamez explained. Viva La Raza also has a connection to Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican Independence Day, and other celebrations of independence, Bill Green, Assistant Dean for Community Life said.
The saying "Viva La Raza" was used by revolutionary soldiers in Mexico, but has evolved to represent the independence of Latino countries around the world.
Another way to understand the meaning of Viva La Raza is to recognize the diversity that exists within Latino culture.
Presente president Tito Foster '08 noted the tendency of people to quickly label Latinos as either Mexican or Cuban. One goal of Viva La Raza, he said, was "to show the other side of Latin culture."
Rather than put everyone into the category of Hispanic, "what we should be doing is asking every Latino or Chicano or whatever where they are from, who they are and how they want to be defined," Gamez said. "Every person of Latino heritage and descent is different and Viva La Raza celebrates and recognizes that, and we want to share that with our community."
Sophia McComb '07, in charge of public relations for Presente, sees Viva La Raza as a way to spread awareness about the issues affecting Latinos.
"A lot of people are sheltered when it comes to the experiences of the Latino community," she said. The issues relating to this group effect not only Latinos across the border, "but deal with the very people that you live right next to."
Viva La Raza is also a way to bring diversity awareness to campus. "Viva La Raza is important at St. Olaf because of the celebration and recognition of the diverse cultures and races represented in the student body and in our global community," Gamez said.
Presente has played a major role in the planning and coordination of Viva La Raza. This organization has been on campus for about 30 years, and was created by a few students whose study abroad programs highlighted the need for a Latino group at St. Olaf.
Presente consists of about 16 students who strive to celebrate diversity and encourage awareness of the Latino community.
According to McComb, a common misconception is that Presente is for Latino students only.
In actuality, Presente invites everyone to become involved. "We enjoy the fact that it is multicultural," McComb said. Presente sponsors a number of events throughout the school year, including activities for Latino Heritage Month in the fall.
They have also worked on projects in conjunction with other groups, such as Amnesty International.
Over the past two weeks, Viva La Raza activities have included traditional dancing, speakers, the movie "In the Time of the Butterflies" and a celebration of Cinco de Mayo which included a chapel talk by Foster and Dan Marx '06 and a piñata breaking with music.
On Friday, the Pause will host a salsa dance from 9 p.m.-12 a.m.