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UniDiversity Festival brings community together

The hot September sun beat down on people’s backs as they gathered in Uptown Park for the 17th annual UniDiversity Festival. The bright decorations and upbeat Latin American music gave the park a sense of vibrancy. The park was transformed into a plaza, a public Latin American space of gathering. Visitors smiled and laughed with their friends, taking selfies with the animals and stopping to get food from all different parts of Latin America.

The festival took seven months of planning and is the only of its kind at an Ohio college and one of the largest in Ohio. People came from all over, even from surrounding states, to take part in the cultural celebration. Community members young and old joined crowds of Miami University students to kick off Hispanic Latino Heritage month.

Pamela Ianiro and Carlito Ortiz hosted the event. Ianiro began the evening with a speech.

“Unidos is created by Latinx, for everyone,” she said. “We are for anyone who has ever been made to feel different. We are for anyone who is looking to find their community, a place where they feel they belong. We are for everyone who recognizes the power in celebrating what makes us unique.”

Later, Amazon John from Silly Safari came with an interactive demonstration meant to teach children about animals and the importance of protecting the ecosystem. His animals did tricks, and he let a few children come up to help with the show.

A Panamanian dance troupe, Toca Madera Latin band, and Orchestra Kandela all delighted the audience with diverse and engaging performances, encouraging them to dance along to the music.

Students stumbled through the Latin dance moves, smiling and moving along to the beat.

“Nothing is static everything is in movement at the festival,” said Jacqueline Rioja Velarde, associate director of the Center for American and World Cultures. “That’s what I really love about the festival — everything is moving; every person finds a niche to enjoy and to be part of the festivities.”

During the performances at the other side of the park, food vendors featured the best of Latin American and Caribbean traditional cuisines. An information fair allowed student organizations, Miami offices, and local community organizations to promote their programs and initiatives, offering a variety of opportunities to join them.

One of these tables was hosted by Victoria Villanueva and the Lex Latinx Society, Miami’s first pre-professional organization led by Latinx students interested in law. Villanueva offered bilingual information about the 2020 census and highlighted the fact that for the Latinx community it’s important to participate because they are often undercounted in the census.

“I’m very passionate about making sure that the Latinx community is represented and given all the opportunities they can,” Villanueva said.

Honey Hill Farm’s petting zoo featured llamas and alpacas, typical animals from the Andean region in South America.

McGuffey Montessori School brought information about its Monarch butterfly program. Children could touch and put tags on them before some of them were released during the festival. The Monarch butterflies usually migrate to Mexico at the beginning of the fall season. Tags allow people to track the migration of these butterflies.

The whole festival was designed to provide interaction and diverse educational opportunities.

“The festival becomes a space of intercultural connections, a place that allows people to build a sense of belonging and community,” Rioja Velarde said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. The festival offers a welcoming environment for all. Everybody learns from each other, dances with each other to the beats of the Latin music, enjoys the taste of traditional cuisines, and more ... I think that’s the beauty of this multicultural and inclusive event.”