If there’s one thing Colombians want people around the world to know, it’s that there is more to their country than the current drug problem. In a panel discussion Thursday night at Lambda Theta Alpha’s “A Night in Colombia” event, mechanical engineering grad student Oscar Daza reminisced about the passion for life and food the people of Colombia have in his home country. A native of Palmira, Colombia, Daza has been in America for five years and said he is still struggling to adapt to the differences of the people.
“(I miss) the warmth of the people, seeing more smiles in the streets, the food, the natural juices that we make over there,” he said. “All (Americans) see and hear about is drugs and that hurts me (because) Colombia’s not just about drugs.”
In the event hosted by the MultiCultural Center (MCC), Lambda Theta Alpha sorority and the Interested Ladies of Lambda Theta Alpha, the ASI San Luis Lounge looked more like the Colombian flag than a university study room. Decorated with balloons, streamers and posters in yellow, blue and red, approximately 40 students piled in to learn about the country’s culture, religion and history. Posterboard displays highlighting famous Colombian natives (such as Shakira and Nascar driver Juan Pablo Montoya) and the country’s culture (such as the patron saint of the Republic of Colombia, La Virgen de Chiquinquira, and Colombian-style bunuelos) were the main attraction of the room.
Sorority sister Byanka Gaxiola and event coordinator Patty Lopez both said they wanted people to walk away from the event more knowledgeable about Cal Poly’s diversity and more aware of another country’s culture.
“We hope that they have a better understanding of their heritage and awareness of the fact that we are different,” Lopez said. “The biggest stereotype is that we’re all Mexican, and I know that a lot of people don’t want to be called that or assumed that. Everyone’s proud of where they come from and I think learning about it helps a lot.”
A slideshow presentation of the country’s economy, religion and natural disasters and a YouTube video titled “Colombia es Pasion en Ingles” mixed Colombia’s well-known problems with its more hidden passion for food, festivals, music and life. The video placed emphasis on the lively passion of the people as it showed footage of Colombians laughing and dancing in street festivals. At the end, a panel of Colombian natives (including two students and a woman who happened to walk by the room coincidentally) spoke about the warm waters of Colombian beaches and laughed when asked if they ate tortillas in Colombia.
“We eat a lot of pais and a lot of rice so we don’t need any tortillas,” said one panelist.
Home to approximately 43 million people, the Republic of Colombia is most known for its drug cartel and economy problems. With 50 percent of its people living below the poverty line, Colombia has an 11.1 percent unemployment rate and a devastatingly low peso. But what the panelists, the members of the sorority and the MCC wanted people to see was that the country is also rich in culture, political history and diversity, all of which were heard when the panelists from different areas of Colombia compared the cloudless skies of Palmira to the still beautiful Bogota. Daza hopes that by speaking about the other things Colombia has to offer, he can make a difference and help people gain a different perspective of Colombia than what they see through the media.
“There’s this sense of responsibility I have to speak well about my country, to speak the truth and I want to be a part of it,” Daza said.
Many students initially attended the hour-long event to fulfill a cultural learning objective for a class, but they walked away with something better.
“It was nice to learn about something different than I’m used to for a change,” kinesiology sophomore Aly Geppert said. “I thought it was interesting, I learned a lot. I thought it was cool how they had people from Colombia come and speak about their experiences.”
This is the third year the sorority and the MCC have put on an event like this. The last two years, the sorority and the MCC have dedicated nights to Belize and El Salvador and Lopez said they hope to continue these events in the future.
“It’s always good to know fun things about a country to kind of keep that with you always and not focus on the bad stuff (but) what makes that country very, very unique,” Lopez said. “We hope to continue on and maybe showcase every other country and hopefully have students be curious and maybe find something fun about Ecuador or Argentina.” Leticia Rodriguez