Hispanic Heritage Month opened with song, history—and strong words for the future. Long-time BMCC supporter and New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez was presented with the Latino Advocator for Higher Education Award by BMCC alum Giovanni Ortiz, and warmly received by the full audience of BMCC students, staff and faculty in Theater II.
The importance of advocacy
“I try to speak for those who feel their voices are not being heard,” said Rodgriquez, who was born in the Dominican Republic to farm worker parents, one of 11 children. He came to New York at age 18, and worked as a taxi driver while earning his Bachelor in Political Science and then Master in Bilingual Education from City College.
A founding teacher of Gregorio Luperon High School, Rodriguez taught newly arrived English Language learners for 14 years, and now chairs the City Council’s Committee on Higher Education. He spoke of the critical link between advocacy, education and opportunity, in lower-income communities.
“It takes $55,000 a year to keep a person in prison,” he said, “and it takes $12,000 a year to put someone through public school. The history of fighting for education is the history of fighting for voters’ rights, immigrant rights—all civil rights.”
You don’t have to be Latino to love—or perform—Latin music
The event’s social message was echoed in performances that featured not only Latino performers and speakers, but people of other heritages presenting popular Latino songs. “Connecting people through their diverse heritages is what Hispanic Heritage Month is all about,” said BMCC Developmental Skills professor and Co-Chair of Hispanic Heritage Month, Rosario Torres.
BMCC alum José Garcia, who graduated in 2010 with an Associate in Engineering Science gave a moving a capella performance of “A Dónde Está el Amor?,” and was joined in a performance of “Somos El Pueblo de Dios” and “Enciende una Luz” by guitarist/singer/songwriter Mario Giacalone.
“In America,” a song by Bev Grant was performed solo by Giacalone, who adapted the lyrics to tell of finding his ancestors’ names at Ellis Island, and how his Italian family’s Lower Manhattan neighborhood has changed, as waves of immigrants arrive, “painting the rainbow that is America.”
BMCC English professor Susan Horowitz performed two original songs: “Si Señor” and “Yo Te Amo,” the latter featured on her latest CD, Keys of Love." Horowitz, in addition to her role in academia—she attended the Yale School of Drama and earned a Ph.D. at the CUNY Graduate Center—is a nationally renowned motivational speaker, singer-songwriter and author of the bestselling Queens of Comedy.
Multicultural tributes to Hispanic culture continued with Center for Ethnic Studies professor Hsing-Lih Chou—who like Horowitz, balances his academic achievements, including a Doctoral degree in Education from Columbia University, with a successful performing arts career. Accompanied by pianist Carol Chen, Chou performed—in Mandarin Chinese—the popular “Historia de un Amor” and “Besame Mucho,” two songs the audience clearly recognized, and loves in any language.
Knowledge is power
“We love music, we love dancing—but we are more than that,” said Hispanic Heritage Month Chair Carmen Martinez-López. “We are contributing to the growth of this country.”
Martinez-López reminded the audience of this year’s Hispanic Heritage theme: “Knowledge Is Power,” its significance echoed by VP for Human Resources Robert Diaz, who served as Executive Advisor for the month-long events.
“Heritage needs to be passed down, generation to generation,” he said, and then described an historical hero from his childhood—one he didn’t know, at the time, was Hispanic.
“See if you know who this is,” he challenged the audience, then described the first rear admiral to the United States Navy, a Civil War fleet leader famous for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay, popularly repeated as, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
“It would have been nice if we knew he was Hispanic,” said Diaz, who attended PS 44, an elementary school in the Bronx named after Admiral David C. Farragut, son of Antoni Ferragut and Joana Mesquida, of Spain.
Ambassadors of success
Throughout the Opening Ceremony, Latino Honor Society students Erica Shaw, Bryant Garcia, Gloria Pineda, Jaime Rodriguez and Christine Osorio introduced guests and told their own stories.
“I’m what’s known as a ‘mutt’,” said Osorio, referring to her Spanish-Chinese-Dutch-French-Indian ethnic heritage and international childhood—a background honored, as it turns out, by the Opening Ceremony’s diverse performances.
“BMCC has given to me, and when I go out into the world, I want to be able to give back. I want to be able to change other people’s worlds, as BMCC has changed mine,” she said, reflecting Council Member Rodriguez’s remarks, at the opening of the event: “If you are a student, work hard. If you’re making straight A’s, help someone else.”
Ongoing events already included a reading by Li Yun Alvarado
Hispanic Heritage month will present readings, lectures, and other special events throughout the month of November.
The morning of the Opening Ceremony, poet and educator Li Yun Alavarado, a doctoral candidate at Fordham University read her work in the Hudson Room. Students interested in poetry and issues of contemporary writers, such as the role of the Internet in building a fine arts career, stayed for a Q&A session, afterwards. “Thinking about your Web presence is so important,” said Alvarado, who shared her own, through an LCD projector.
For more information on Hispanic Heritage Month, check the BMCC Events Calendar.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Much appreciated Hispanic Heritage Month Executive Committee members not mentioned in this article include Marcos Gonzales, Co-Chair; Jenny Gonzalez, Secretary; Cindy Veras, Treasurer; Ana Daniels and Ivelisse Rodriguez, Marketing and Public Relations.