Latino Student Alliance member Donaldo Lleshi and co-president Alejandra Rivera hang a banner in Eastern Mennonite University's Campus Center in preparation for a fellowship event to mark the beginning of Latino Heritage Month. The hand-painted banner was brought back from Bolivia by club advisor M. Esther Showalter. (Photos by Andrew Strack)

Donde caben dos, caben tres: Always ‘room for one more’ in EMU’s Latino Student Alliance

Eastern Mennonite University’s Latino Student Alliance hosted a Sept. 15 chapel to begin Latino Heritage Month. Guest speaker Don Clymer, an EMU language professor who has led several cross-cultural trips to Central and South America, shared on the theme of Donde Caben Dos, Caben Tres,” a common Hispanic saying which translates as “there is always room for one more.”

Read more about LSA’s history at EMU and about club activities.

Co-president Ariel Barbosa speaks at the Sept. 15 chapel.

Latino Heritage Month is from mid-September to mid-October, and includes several important days: September 15 is Independence Day for five Central American countries, while September 16 is Mexico’s independence day and September 18 is Chile’s.

From his experiences living, working and traveling across Mexico and Latin America, Clymer focused on three similarities of Hispanic cultures: personal space and intimacy, the spirit of community and hospitality, tying each to the theme, which he alternately translated as, “Where two fit, three fit.”

Among those experiences, which Clymer later matched to scripture, was the generosity of neighbors sharing grief after the death of a youth in the community, being offered the only mattress in a home while the hosts slept on reed mats, and a woman who always prepared more food than necessary in anticipation of unforeseen guests.

“A lot of that was so familiar,” said LSA co-president Ariel Barbosa afterwards. “Visiting my dad’s side of family in Brazil this past summer, I felt their sacrifice and hospitality deeply. There was always enough, even when it seemed like there shouldn’t have been.”

Members welcomed the audience afterwards to a gathering in the Campus Center for coffee and pan (sweet bread).

A few of LSA’s members gathered for a photo after the Sept. 15 chapel: Back row, from left: Mario Hernández, Donaldo Lleshi, Sara Shenk-Moreno, Anna Messer, Zury Lemus. Middle: Valeria Hernández, Gillian Zehr. Front: M.Esther Showalter, Celeste Diaz, Elizabeth Witmer, Ariel Barbosa.

The month-long celebration includes Saturday’s International Festival in Harrisonburg at Hillandale Park. Held annually for the past 19 years, the free day of fun draws thousands of visitors to celebrate the area’s rich cultural diversity through art, dance, music and food.

Members say they are also concerned and offering support to fellow students and community members who may be uneasy with the current government actions related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). LSA provides a safe and encouraging place for everyone, said Barbosa, adding that the club is open to all students. [Read EMU president Susan Schultz Huxman’s statement on the rescission of DACA.]

Currently, though, there is special care, consideration and prayers being said for those LSA members and campus community members affected by DACA, she said.

“We have a responsibility as a student club to walk alongside students who are being affected by the decision to end DACA,” said co-president Anna Messer. “As Latino Student Alliance, we want to encourage these students who are finding their footing and building a foundation for their future. We want people to be supported and empowered to thrive as students, athletes, artists and community members. We ask the same of our campus community, to continue to serve as a safe and welcoming home and refuge. ”

Latino Heritage Month closes with the popular and well-attended LSA Banquet, a formal-dress event on Friday, Oct. 6, which has traditionally included food from different cultures, speakers and live music, followed by dancing with a DJ. By necessity, attendance is capped at 200.

LSA meets weekly at 3:30 on Friday afternoons for conversation, planning, comraderie and “always food,” the members say.

The leadership team includes co-presidents Ariel Barbosa, Mario Hernández, Alejandra Rivera and Anna Messer; secretary Valeria Hernández; treasurer Drew Diaz; and Gillian Zehr, who handles marketing.