‘I think this is our defining year’: Latinx Student Union returns for third annual Unity Ball

Hosted April 12 on the Quiet Side of Commons with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.

By Kimberly Cortez | April 8, 2024 10:00am
Unity Ball tickets lay messily on top of one another. The Unity Ball is April 12 on the Quiet Side of Commons, doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Media Credit: Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

Two years ago, six students from the Latinx Student Union (LSU) had a hopeful vision for the future of cultural events at UP: create a space that brought together various cultural clubs for one night, what they called Unity Ball. 

Now — two Unity Balls later — LSU is redefining the event. Still championing its unifying origins, the club is highlighting Latinx culture more centrally than ever at UP. 

“It's called Unity Ball, but [this year] is the closest we've been to [having] more of a Latinx Student Union cultural night,” LSU’s Co-Preseident Santiago Franco, said. “This is our year to express more what it's like to be Latinx.”

Hosted April 12 on the Quiet Side of Commons with doors opening at 5:30 p.m., this year’s Unity Ball will feature food from vendors El Pilon, Salt & Pepper, La Sirenita and performances from Danza Azteca, Nivel Extremo, the Filipino American Student Association (FASA) and members of LSU will also be performing. 

Tickets are being sold for $10 and can be bought the day of the event until tickets last or can be purchased online via their Instagram. Part of the proceeds of the tickets will be donated to Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) — an Oregon labor union that specifically works with the Latinx families and workers.

For Co-Unity Ball Chair, Daisy Madrid, — who planned almost every detail of Unity Ball alongside the other co-chair, Emlyn Romero-Hernandez and intern Daniela Rivera — being able to showcase different aspects of Latin American culture was central to the planning of the event which took a year to prepare for.  

“I feel like that [Latinx Student Union] is a big umbrella, like a big scope of different cultures and countries and people,” Madrid said. “We're slowly starting to transition to making it our cultural night but honoring unity between different Latin American cultures.”

To honor the richness of Latinx culture in a way that is all-encompassing is no easy feat. But Madrid says it’s important for students at UP with varying Latinx identities to see themselves represented in a club that welcomes all Latinx students. 

“A big part is just showing our culture honoring different parts of what makes LSU,” Madrid said. “We have a lot of people from Mexico, we have people from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and different places. So really just trying to reflect our student body, but also show off different parts of our culture that people may not know too much about.” 

Part of highlighting the various cultures within Latin America is touching upon the indigenous roots embedded in them, something Madrid and Romero-Hernandez wanted to showcase this year. 

“I think for this year we really wanted to highlight different aspects of Latin America and different cultures,” Madrid said. “A lot of us have in common our indigenous roots. We really wanted to honor our indigenous roots.”

Honoring Latinx indigenous roots is the acknowledgement of how Spanish colonialism is a shared experience felt by more than one culture, she says — specifically, the tie between Filipino and Latinx culture. 

“I feel like there's a little bit of crossover between cultures with Filipino culture that goes back to centuries and colonization times in history,” Madrid said.

Unity Ball planning began for Marid and Romero-Hernandez in the summer and as Unity Ball becomes a defining event for LSU, an “all hands on deck” mentality has been built into the ethos of the club. In the end, it’s still for the students, by the students. For Franco, having a designated event to work towards at the end of the year has made the club find more of a purpose. 

“I think it's something that everybody starts getting into at the beginning of the year,” Franco said. “LSU has this huge event at the end of the year. I don't think we really did anything like that prior. It was just like finishing the year off. But, Unity Ball was kind of the embodiment of like, hey, let's show who we are as a club and show our culture.”

LSU’s Co-Public Relations Chair Alessandra Cabanillas-Morey joined LSU her first year at UP, the same year of the first Unity Ball. Now as a junior, Cabanillas-Morey says that she feels a sense of responsibility to contribute to Unity Ball for it to continue in the future. 

“Upperclassmen are kind of in charge of keeping this going,” Cabanillas-Morey said. “I feel like I'm in charge of keeping it going as well and contributing my ideas, my culture. I want other [people] to see that.”

Over the past two years, the executive board of LSU has played a crucial role in expanding Unity Ball. The knowledge of how to navigate all the different parts of UP event planning, from getting posters approved to going through Bon App, has been passed along to current LSU members by past members.

This process can be difficult — especially for clubs that may not have that knowledge already. 

“What people don't know is just because whatever you're expecting isn't there, doesn't mean what is here wasn't fought for,” Franco said. “We had a fight for this.”

For Cabanillas-Morey, whose main role is to advertise and promote Unity Ball, these barriers can be frustrating when students are trying to put on an event at UP. 

“The amount of approval that you need from the school is crazy,” Cabanillas-Morey said. “There's strict rules, which make sense to be able to accommodate every cultural club. But if you don't know these things, it kind of impacts you when you're trying to plan it.”

Rivera adds how most LSU board members, on top of being full-time students, have other commitments and responsibilities that adds to stress of planning. 

“Little things sometimes just end up building up and it can be really difficult on top of like your schoolwork or other responsibilities a lot of board members have,” Rivera said. 

But in the end, the process is worth it. For Franco, who will be leaving LSU next year, the fight, planning and continuation of Unity Ball is something bigger than himself. 

“The whole process of it was hard,” Franco said. “But it was fun in that sense of like, we're getting this done. I want to see that legacy continue on and get bigger. I know it will happen. I want to see, like even in a couple of years in the future, see ‘Where is it now?’”

For LSU members like Madrid, who were a part of the first Unity Ball and will be graduating this May, she hopes to see Unity Ball continue to incorporate more ways to showcase Latinx cultures. 

“I would like for Unity Ball to continue to evolve and grow but also, still maintain that respect towards different traditions, celebrations and our indigeneity that we might not always talk about,” Madrid said. 

For Cabanillas-Morey, the ultimate goal is to see Unity Ball in a place most cultural clubs strive to get to: Chiles. 

“I think we are all striving for Chiles,” Cabanillas-Morey said. “It's a difficult process to get to [Chiles], and expensive. I think Chiles would be such an amazing opportunity to try to get more performers and try to represent a little bit more of who we are.”

Bringing the UP community together for one night is not easy, but Franco sees this as an opportunity to invite students and others to go out and build connections — even if it is just for one night. 

“It's a great place to meet people you haven't met before from your own culture,” Franco said. “You make those connections and along with that you have the food, the performances — you get that connection to your culture and you make those connections with other people. That is why I love Unity Ball so much. It brings everyone together and gives them that opportunity to really unify.”

More information on Unity Ball can be found on LSU’s Instagram.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed México en la Piel Ballet Folklorico as one of the performers at the event.

Kimberly Cortez is the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor for The Beacon. They can be reached at cortez25@up.edu.