By Diego Loera
During the first day of school, freshmen attempt to find their way in college. Campus organizations try to recruit students by offering them a place of comfort where they can manifest themselves as people sharing common interests, beliefs and culture. With Centro Americanos Unidos (CAU), this comfort zone is offered but in a more intimate, closer way than what bigger organizations on campus can offer students.
On May 30, CAU hosted “Dia Centroamericano ‘Los Siete’” at the Namaste Lounge in College 9/10 from 5 to 8 p.m. Roughly 50 people filled the room, while the scent of traditional Central American delicacies and the noise of people chattering and laughing filled the air. UC Santa Cruz dance group Sabrosura performed for attendees to evoke Central American culture through their high-energy dancing and music typical of Latin American culture.
Fourth-year Jasmin Iraheta, member of CAU, likes the closeness and intimacy found with her fellow members at CAU, which was a somewhat different experience than what she felt at El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA).
“I started at MEChA. I didn’t know a lot about Mexican history and I felt kind of left out,” Iraheta said. “They were on a whole different plan and I was on a different basis. They had a strong ideology, starting back 40 years ago.”
Within CAU, most of the members are from Los Angeles and share Iraheta’s heritage. That is why she feels more at home with this group.
“I enjoy CAU more because besides the intimacy, the members are coming from the same place and/or similar experiences as I am,” Iraheta said.
The event’s history traces back six years ago, and each year CAU creates a theme. This year, the theme was Interventions in Central America, referring to political, military, and economical interventions throughout history and today within each of the countries forming Central America, while tying them with the seven deadly sins known from the Catholic religion.
Sunny Cardona, the co-chair of CAU and native of Los Angeles, is of Salvadorian background. She said CAU brings people together in an intimate way, more so than large organizations on campus.
“I know a couple of people told me that the [large organizations on campus] are too big,” Cardona said. “So they didn’t feel comfortable in that space.”
Some students have told Cardona that within larger organizations they felt uncomfortable, she said. Non-Mexican students noted the emphasis on Mexican culture, which made it hard for them to relate to the groups.
However within CAU, and its 15 members, mainly women, their closeness ties in with CAU’s reason for existence: to bring awareness on campus about Central American culture.
Central Americans are not recognized fully by the campus population, Cardona said, although they make up the second largest Latin American group in the U.S.
The group Sabrosura helped attendees understand Central America through music and dance.
Walter Piche, member of Sabrosura, danced along with his fellow members this past Friday to an energetic crowd that clapped and sang along. The group played music ranging from bachata, salsa, merengue and cumbia to modern hip-hop music.
“Music reflects culture in many ways because every country has modified a genre of music to their style,” Piche said. “For example, cumbia has been modified by plenty of countries: there’s Columbian, where it originates from, Mexican style, [Salvadorian] style, etc.”
CAU’s motto is “No Borders.” Membership and events are aimed for an audience not limited to people of Central American heritage.
“We don’t target Latin Americans. We welcome everybody,” Cardona said. “We tell people that are not of Latin American descent to show up but I feel like they don’t seem interested.”
Cardona hopes that this year’s attendees gain a sense of themselves as individuals and grow better acquainted with Central American culture.
“I just hope people learn who we are as a people,” Cardona said. “People are unaware of our culture, our history. Hopefully, they become more open-minded to learn about others.”