On September 26th Spring Creek Senior Partners (SCSP) hosted their annual Hispanic Heritage event, commemorating Latino history, culture, music, and tradition. National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15th to October 15th and pays tribute to the generations of Hispanics who have had an impact on our society and the numerous contributions that they have made to it.
Every year, the SCSP hosts an event that is presented by HUD Service Coordinator, Denise Ruiz, who focuses on educating the seniors about the 20 Spanish speaking countries around the world. Ruiz presents the event in both Spanish and English so that every-one is welcome to join. “I think it’s important to host events like these because it educates people who are not from a Hispanic background. We are able to share positive know-ledge with each other, and learn all about Latino traditions and back-grounds,” said Ruiz.
Upon entering the SCSP multi-purpose room, attendees were transported to the tropical isles of Latin America. Palm trees, pine-apples, bananas, and other exotic fruits were scattered around the room, which was also decked out in pictures and fun facts about His-panic culture. There were descriptions about Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Mexican, and Dominican exports, dishes, national flowers, and so much more. Spanish phrases covered the walls in hopes of increasing awareness of the language. Some of these words included: country (país), currency (moneda), clothing (ropa), and sugar (azúcar).
Since there are 20 Spanish speaking countries in the world, Ruiz focuses on two each year so that they can eventually learn about all of them. This year, Ruiz spoke about Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Panama is a country in Central America and has a population of over four million people, according to the World Bank. This tropical country is often sought as a prime tourist attraction because of its lush beaches, dense forests, and rich history. Much of Panama’s culture derives from European music, art, and tradition. Over the centuries, Panama’s traditions melded together with hints of indigenous Native American tribes, African, and Spaniard influences. One famous traditional dance from Panama is the tamborito, which has African rhythms. Another dance, which is infamous in Colombian culture as well a Panamanian, is Cumbia. This form of dance has traces of indigenous roots and is performed to folkloric music.
Ruiz made sure to show the seniors Panama’s national bird, which is the Harpy eagle. These birds of prey are among the world’s largest and most powerful eagles, growing up to three feet tall. Their talons alone can grow as long as a grizzly bear’s claws (three to four inches).
Seniors also learned that Panama’s national flower is the Holy Ghost orchid, or the dove orchid. This flower is a reflection of the country’s large Catholic religious background. In fact, the Christmas parade, known as El desfile de Navidad, is an extremely large event just like their colorful five-day celebration Carnival. At the Christ-mas parade, women wear pollera, which are white linen, off the shoulder, blouses and ruffled skirts. During the Carnival, women wear bright colors, plume feathers, and bikini-esque outfits.
Many of the seniors were excited during the musical parts of Ruiz’s presentation. She showed clips of famous Panamanian singers, such as Ruben Blades’ “Decisiones” and El General’s reggae composition “Muevelo.”
When Ruiz discussed the Dominican Republic, many of the seniors related to the topic because it is the country that they were born in. Dominicans account for a large portion of the New York City’s Hispanic population (along with Puerto Rican and Mexican, ac-cording to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data.) This Caribbean nation shares an island with Haiti, and is also considered a prime tourist location.
Its tropical terrain consists of rain forests, mountains (Pico Duarte is the tallest mountain in the Caribbean and in the Dominican Republic), sugar plantations, and busy cities like Santo Domingo. With a population of almost 11 mil-lion people, according to the World Bank, the Dominican Republic has a rich history, particularly with Christopher Columbus. Santo Domingo is one of the oldest cities because it was the first permanent European settlement in the Americas and the first to experience Spanish colonial rule in the New World.
Taino Indians were the indigenous people who lived in the Dominican Republic before it was colonized. Much of the country’s culture is combined with African, Taino Indian, and Spaniard elements. Spaniard influences can clearly be seen in the architecture, especially within the baroque structures like the Cathedrals, monasteries, and other historical land-marks. Some of its well-known musical genres have African and Taino Indian roots, like Merengue and Bachata. As an example of how much dancing is a part of Dominican culture, Ruiz showed a video of traditional bottle dancing (which is a salsa performance where the dancer stands on a bottle while twirling around).
When Ruiz mentioned the Dominican Republic’s exports, many of the seniors added their own suggestions. While Ruiz focused on exports, such as sugar, gold, silver, meats, and other consumer goods, others said that the country’s rum is another major export.
When Ruiz concluded her presentation, she then had the seniors play a game of hot potato. The game was simple; she would distribute a traditional fruit found in Hispanic countries, and the person who has it when the music stops gets to keep it. A platano (a banana you can cook), Guanábana (a soursop fruit), baby bananas, oranges, and pineapples were passed around the group of seniors while various types of Spanish music played.
Once all of the fruit was distributed, Ruiz had one last surprise for the attendees. She brought in a Caribbean drink called Sorrel Ginger for the seniors to try. This red juice looked and tasted a lot like a spicy form of fruit punch.
“The drink was really spicy, but I liked everything about today’s event. I think it’s important that we share knowledge about Hispanic culture because it’s something that should be accepted and celebrated by everyone in the community,” said Alex Franco, who tries to attend this event every year.
“I do a lot of research for these presentations because I want to increase people’s understanding of Hispanic heritage, so that they can develop an appreciation for the culture and realize that they might have a lot more in common with their neighbors. I hope it creates a dialogue where people can ask each other questions and not feel embarrassed or afraid to offend one another,” Ruiz said.
Photos by Amanda Moses