National Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) began on September 15, and UF’s Hispanic Student Association (HSA) was there to ring it in with an opening ceremony including food, speakers, and a live musician. The 2018 UF HHM lineup has been planned months in advance by members of UF HSA. “UF’s Hispanic Heritage Month is the biggest month-long celebration in the country in terms of the number of people that go to the celebrations and the budget,” says Traditions Pageant Director Carmen Florez, a third-year psychology major. She says, “100% definitely go [to the events]” because it is HSA’s “way of showing everyone we’re here, we have a lot of fun and we’d love for you to appreciate this fun.”

The Traditions Pageant took place September 19 in the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom as part of HHM 2018. Eleven male and female contestants performed and were judged based on talent, clothing and an interview. The talent portion was presented as a video montage, and the clothing included three categories: fitness wear, formal wear and business wear, which was styled by Banana Republic, a sponsor for the event. Pageant princess (second place title) Nicole Calderon Alvarez, a junior political science major, said she was encouraged by a friend to try something new, so she entered the pageant. She believes Hispanic Heritage Month is significant because it provides a way for UF to “not just recognize the fact that Hispanics have become such a big part of the U.S. today but also celebrate it. This way we are able to be inclusive and welcome other people from other cultures to celebrate with us, and we can learn to appreciate our culture.” She believes that by participating in HHM, “we [UF] make a new face for public education [by recognizing] the part of it that is changing.”

Nicole (right) with Queen Sheyla Ravelo (left)

Irfan Kovankaya, a third-year political science and international relations double major, had the opportunity to emcee the event after helping out with the VISA Talent show last spring. “I am not Hispanic” he says, “but that doesn’t take away from how special I think [HHM] is…I love seeing immigrants come together and create this new culture.” He thinks it’s important that UF “not only appreciates [the Hispanic community]” but remembers that “they matter and they strengthen our country.”

HHM’s biggest event, the Paraíso Music Festival, occurred on September 21 at Flavet field. Paraíso, meaning paradise in Spanish, was the theme of the festival, centered around the idea of bringing together fun, inclusion, art, culture and unity to create the ultimate paradise. Musical artists Amara La Negra (the headliner), Elio Piedra, Winston Paulino, and the Sirens performed a spectacular show throughout the night. There was a mechanical shark, food trucks, a giant music video screen, festival accessories, and UF’s Indian Student Association even came out to do free henna tattoos. “I learned about other Hispanic cultures that aren’t Dominican” shares Ricely Tejada, a junior economics major. “Hispanic Heritage Month means celebrating my culture and where I am from and being proud of my roots,” she describes.

Didn’t make it to the past HHM events? Follow @UF_HHM on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to hear updates and see the calendar.

Here is a brief look at upcoming dates:

Today, September 26: Coffee and convos

September 28: Art Festival

September 30: 5K Guerrero Challenge

October 2: Forum

October 4: Rainbow Day

October 9: Salsa for Chispas

October 12: Closing Ceremony