Hispanic Heritage: Puerto Rican Nights at the U of I

Local News

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the diversity of many cultures. Some you can find at the University of Illinois.

Puerto Rican students have a long history on campus. Decades ago, Puerto Rican nights at Lazter Hall were the place to be. Students would celebrate the religious Hispanic holiday, 3 King’s Day.

“This was an event organized by Puerto Rican students, primarily with some support from other students as well, we can assume. And this would include a night of good food and music and discussion,” says Salvatore De Sando, a recent University Archives staff member.

This is part of the University YMCA’s International Supper, which later evolved into International Dinners. Those are still around 30 years later.

“One of the things that has been a long tradition, for the last couple of generations, has been our international dinners,” says Mike Doyle, YMCA Executive Director.

Illinois archives and yearbooks show Puerto Ricans have been on campus dating back to 1908 and have been waving their flag and yelling ‘wepa’ on campus ever since.

“I think something really unique happens in that students very early on, we’re prone to talking about where they’re coming from,” says De Sando.

That Hispanic identity could be seen through the hand written and drawn flyers back in the 1950’s.

It could also be seen through the food served: pasteles, arroz con gandueles, pasta de guayaba con queso, pan, and cafe con leche were all on the menu. All food and pastries many Puerto Ricans enjoyed then and still enjoy now.

Just like the love for salsa dancing and Spanish music, which was a big part of the celebration.

“I think the cultural nights are really exciting. And we still see them on campus today. We see the successors of these projects,” says De Sando.

The Puerto Rican Student Association was founded in the 60’s and is still active today.
They continue to embrace Puerto Rican culture by hosting Latin nights and other cultural events.

“You know, there’s often a lot of jokes like, ‘Oh, Puerto Rican kids have their flag everywhere, they have their pride everywhere,’ like they make fun of me and my phone case, like I need that for a reason, because it’s a part of educating and showing why we care, and why we’re here and why organizing and coming together,” says Current PRSA President Issy Marquez.

It’s something the University YMCA also embraces – as they encourage others to understand the history and culture of Puerto Rican students.

“One of the things that’s really unique about the university YMCA is for the last hundred plus years, one of the main functions of the organization has been to make sure that we’re a welcoming campus… The differences are not something that should keep us apart, but rather bring us together and appreciate that fabric of diversity,” says Doyle.

The YMCA used to hosts International Dinner every week, but now it is in March every year. They are looking to do more with smaller events In hopes of creating more diversity and conversations about different cultures on campus.

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