The fresh aroma of Latin and Mexican food filled the Clayton Center for the Arts plaza on Saturday, Nov. 2. People from all over the town of Maryville milled together to enjoy the sights and sounds that the first annual Latino Foodways Festival had to offer.
The event was sponsored by the Latino Student Alliance or LSA, a new organization on campus created last semester.
The food was provided by local businesses, such as Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant, Aroma Café Cuban Cuisine and La Lupita Mexican Store.
The cuisine was not the only thing that the event had to offer. Several speakers over a gamut of expertise, including Maryville College professors and students, came forward to address those gathered and to discuss what made Latin American food what it is known for today.
For example, few know that nixtamal, one of the prime ingredients in one’s grits, was used to build the Aztec empire and create the burritos and tacos people so enjoy.
Not only was the science and history of the food discussed, but also the simple idea of the differences between the foods themselves. American food and how it is prepared is different from how Latin American and Mexican food is prepared.
Latin and Mexican food is based on nixtamal and rice, both of which make up much of the food that one enjoys eating when one heads out to a Mexican restaurant. However, this food differs in more than its content.
When Jose Perez, a junior at Maryville College and the president of LSA, spoke about his own observed cultural differences, he emphasized how Latino food is enjoyed and meant to create cohesion within the family.
For Perez, the food not only acts as a presentation of their culture, but as a fundamental part of cementing the cultural values of family. Sharing food is sharing a mutual experience that brings people together.
Likewise, LSA strives to provide a safe haven on campus for cultural exchange and understanding.
According to Perez, this was one of the main reasons LSA was founded. He attended an event last year for the Appalachian College Association for Villamaría, which is the translation of “Maryville.”
Attending the conference, Perez said that he “found that the idea of a place on campus for Latino and Latina students, along with non-Latino students, to come together would be a wonderful prospect for the campus as a whole.”
Alongside Perez, Owen Shelnutt said he is excited for the future of LSA, especially about the fact that the people who had started with the club were still there to help and make the events the successes. The founding of LSA is to, after all, to share rich culture and perspective.
“The officers of LSA have done an amazing job taking the initiative to build this club from the ground up,” said Dr. Doug Sofer, advisor for LSA and associate professor of history.
Already plans are in the works for new events, most likely to center on Hispanic holidays.