December 14, 2023
By Michael C. Butz
Music that made you want to dance emanated from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Atrium. Laughter and conversation echoed throughout, too, while students played cards and other tabletop games. The smell of warm coffee enticed dozens of students to stop by for a cup and to sample sweet baked goods, and a celebratory sense of togetherness was palpable.
This might describe any number of lunchtime events at the Cleveland Institute of Art, but this particular event was the first of its kind—and a big hit with the CIA community.
It was Cafecito y Chisme, the first event of the academic year for CIA’s re-energized Latinx Heritage and Appreciation Club. Students, faculty and staff were invited to sip on Café Bustelo and sample guava pastries from Guaterriqueña Bakery in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood. Luca Diaz, vice president of Latinx Club, thought the event “went really well” and said fellow members were “really happy to see people come and show support.”
“The Latinx Club events didn’t have great attendance last year, so I think we were all holding our breath a little bit to see how it’d go. But, we had a lot of people come by, a lot of people asking questions, and people looking to join the club and get involved,” says Diaz, an Interior Architecture senior. “I think it exceeded the expectations we had.”
Finding community Held in late September during National Hispanic Heritage Month, Cafecito y Chisme served as a coming out party of sorts for the Latinx Club. It was founded in February 2021, and following a year-and-a-half of modest beginnings, it now enjoys a core membership of eight to 10 students. When events like Cafecito y Chisme take place, member participation doubles. Growing that community is part of the club’s mission.
CIA’s student body has grown increasingly diverse in recent years. In fall 2023, 10.4 percent reported being Hispanic/Latinx. Ten years earlier, in fall 2013, it was 4.6 percent. But, as those figures suggest, the majority of CIA’s student body is white. So, finding community is critical for Latinx Club members whose families have ties to Cuba, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Venezuela, says Inali Pichardo, Latinx Club co-advisor.
“Being able to find other people of color or other people who share a Latin or Hispanic background is really important. It’s like a security blanket. If you can’t find something, they might be able to help you find that something,” says Pichardo, who’s also the Office Manager + Events Coordinator for CIA Admissions. “I believe the club was started for that reason. In the sea of otherness, or of white faces, you have people who look like you or speak the same language as you. Even if you’re not from the same country or ethnicity, you can still share similarities in your cultures.”
Latinx Club co-advisor Mei Peraza, who’s also CIA’s Residence Life Coordinator, says she wanted to help lead the club because she has worked with students in search of community or in need of cultural connection.
“Having been born in a Puerto Rican family, going to a Puerto Rican church, basically being surrounded by Puerto Ricans my entire life—socially, culturally—I thought it would be a great experience to be able to provide that opportunity to students who really didn’t have that chance to connect with their culture,” Peraza says.
Diaz, whose family was the first non-white family in their Rochester, New York neighborhood, finds value in the community provided by the Latinx Club.
“I’m half-Cuban, half-Puerto Rican. My hometown is very white. Outside of my household at home, I didn’t grow up around other Latinx people. We didn’t have any sort of ethnic clubs at my high school or anything like that,” Diaz says. “And then coming here, it’s not a super-diverse school, and so [I joined Latinx Club] partially because I wanted to connect with more alike people, but also, I wanted to help create a space for incoming students who are looking for that sense of community.”
Sharing culture Cafecito y Chisme, which translates to “coffee and gossip,” is culturally significant, explains Pichardo, whose family hails from the Dominican Republic. “Having a coffee hour in a Hispanic or Latin household is very important. It’s literally an hour of relaxation and talking, sharing time with your parents or family members.”
Another part of Latinx Club’s mission is to share Latinx and Hispanic culture with the broader CIA community. Cafecito y Chisme was an example of that. So was Lotería, a game night held in early November revolving around a bingo-like game by the same name.
“It’s an opportunity to bond with family. They get rowdy, they get loud. Culturally speaking, it’s a Mexican game,” says Peraza, noting that events like Lotería are open to the entire CIA community.
“For a lot of the Latinx students who attend the meetings, they want to have a visible presence on campus,” Peraza says. “They want to show people outside of CIA the diversity at CIA as well as share their culture with other students who haven’t really had an interest in Latin American or Hispanic culture.
“I think it was really exciting to see how many people participated in Cafecito and to see that the community desires that connection and is willing to try new things,” she added.
Looking to the future, Peraza and Pichardo hope to eventually take students on field trips to Cleveland’s Hispanic and Latinx neighborhoods, collaborate with other Latinx clubs and organizations in Northeast Ohio, and to bring in Latinx CIA alumni for artist talks. They also hope interest in the club continues to grow within CIA’s walls—as does Diaz.
“I’d love to see it reach CAB level, like these big clubs,” he says, referring to CIA’s student-led Campus Activities Board. “I’d love to see it flourish. I’d love to see constant interest in the club.”
CIA’s Latinx Club celebrates its successful Cafecito y Chisme event. Standing, from left: advisor Mei Peraza, Giovanna Mclean, Ana Ribeiro Duraes, Sid Rogers, president Julissa Bruno, Jax Juarez, vice president Luca Diaz, Claudia Bordelois, Marcella Telles, advisor Inali Pichardo. Kneeling, from left: Ian Smith, Abigail Quintana.
Calling all Latinx alumni
If you’re a Latinx CIA alum and interested in sharing your experience as an artist or designer with Latinx Club members, you’re encouraged to contact club co-advisor Mei Peraza at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss in-person or virtual opportunities.
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