Five UT Students Reflect on the Beauty and Uniqueness of Latin American Culture

by Tatiana Lopez

Latin culture has been misrepresented and stereotyped for a long time. Many individuals hear the word “Latino,” and they instantly think of Mexico. Others do not necessarily think of something specific because they’re not familiar with the culture at all. Even though Latin American identity is unified and strong, every country is unique in its own ways. The University of Texas student body is composed by thousands of students who come from different Latin countries and each one of them embodies their culture in distinct ways from the food they eat to the way that they dress.

Some of these UT students were born and raised in their respective countries, while others grew up in the U.S. Their experiences and perceptions about their culture show how diverse Latin identity truly is.

COLOMBIA

Sarah Muñoz is a third-year student at UT studying English. She grew up in Texas, but her entire family is from Colombia.

Spark Magazine: What aspects make your culture unique?

Sarah Muñoz: For some reason, I can always tell when someone is from Colombia. There is something about us that makes us stand out. My family is originally from Bogota, Colombia’s capital, and I perceive beauty differently than I perceive it here in the U.S. When I go to Colombia I notice that girls straighten their hair, so I start doing the same thing. It is very important for Colombian women to look well-presented at all times, which is why their nails are always done, and they try to wear nice accessories even if they do not own the trendiest clothes. We are definitely more conscious about how we look.

SM: How do you express your culture on a daily basis?

SM: The food is amazing. I love eating arepas and sweet plantain with cheese. I like the Colombian food truck in East Austin, Artessano, because I have been able to find vegan options. One of the aspects of Colombian culture that cannot be missed is the music. The first thing I listen to when I visit my family in Bogota is Vallenato, which is a genre of music unique to my country. Even though I have been influenced by American culture because I am less conservative than my relatives, I still feel connected to my roots. I listen to salsa at least once a day because it makes me feel at home, and it is something that my mom has been teaching me over the years. In terms of fashion, I prefer Colombian trends. I support Colombian artisans by buying most of their jewelry because I like to contribute to the local economy. Espadrilles are very typical, and I wear them almost every day. Even though I grew up in Texas, my family never let our separation from Colombia change the way they raised us.

Cristina Loboguerrero is a second-year Public Relations student at UT, who was raised in Colombia’s capital. She believes that diversity defines Colombia’s culture.

SM: What aspects make your culture unique?

Cristina Loboguerrero: Every region has different types of food, fashion, architecture, and so on. I grew up in Bogota, which resembles New York City because it is a very cosmopolitan city. The people dress in dark or neutral tones, and the architecture is similar to that of the Big Apple. Then we have Cali, which could be considered the Los Angeles of Colombia because it is characterized by its warmth and explosion of color. These two cities reflect how diverse Colombia is since every region possesses different characteristics that make them unique. For instance, eating lobster is common in La Guajira, a department in the north of the country, while the potato and chicken soup Ajiaco is predominant in Bogota. Our music is also diverse. Salsa, Bachata and Vallenato are some of the genres that belong to our culture — especially Vallenato — which is unique to our country and resembles the Mexican mariachi. Coffee is central to the daily lives of Colombians, and it has become one of the main symbols of the country. Beauty could also be considered another significant symbol. The Miss Universe pageant is a huge deal, and this event reflects the big emphasis there is on beauty.

SM: How do you express your culture on a daily basis?

CL: I usually listen to Bomba Estereo and Choquibtown, which are very representative of my country. I am very passionate about Colombia, which is why I try to embody all the good qualities that characterize its citizens. I like to be kind to other people, spread my joy and work hard because all these attributes reflect the spirit of Colombian culture.

GUATEMALA

Mariel Kuestermann is a second-year Public Relations student at UT, who was raised in Guatemala City. She considers her culture to be deeply connected to its indigenous roots.

SM: What aspects make your culture unique?

Mariel Kuestermann: Guatemala is all about colors and patterns. Every town can be identified with specific colors and patterns, which reflects how each tribe has its own identity. Our food is “natural,” and by this, I mean that the food served comes directly from the ground. Our ceviche is delicious, and we like to include Mayan sauces in our dishes. Unfortunately, beauty in my culture is associated with social status, so the more you have the better you will be perceived by others. The marimba — which is a percussion instrument — is central to Guatemala’s music, and I love how upbeat it is.

SM: How do you express your culture on a daily basis?

MK: The landscapes in Guatemala are stunning. Antigua is one of the most iconic cities in the country, and it is characterized by its cobbled streets because it reflects the colonial era in which it was built. Lake Atitlan is amazing, and I love watching the sunsets there. This is why I like to engage in outdoor activities in Austin because that is how I stay connected to Guatemala. I believe I also express my culture through fashion because I usually wear bright colors and it makes me feel a lot better, even if I am in a bad mood. In my opinion, bracelets and rings add a nice touch, so I always try to incorporate them into my outfits. Finally, my cheerfulness is a result of listening to Guatemalan music every day. I think that joy and happiness are also key to my culture, and I try to embody that on a daily basis.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Melina Perez is a senior design student at the University of Texas at Austin. She grew up in Washington Heights, which is basically an “extension of Dominican Republic” in New York.

SM: What aspects make your culture unique?

Melina Perez: People in Dominican Republic tend to copy American trends, but these trends arrive months after they first become popular in the U.S. This reflects how the U.S. strongly influences fashion in my country. The Carnival is one of the most emblematic events in Dominican Republic. The main character is the diablo cajuelo or the “limp devil.” The legend says that he was so bad that he was sent to the Earth and crashed, which explains his limpness. Our food is also unique. One of my favorite dishes is mashed plantain with cheese, salami, avocado and fried egg, which is called tres golpes. In addition to traditional events like the Carnival and the food, music is a key aspect of my culture. The genre Bachata is booming right now, but older generations view it as vulgar, even though it has become very iconic.

SM: How do you express your culture on a daily basis?

MP: Growing up in Washington Heights helped me remain connected to my roots. However, when I moved away it was difficult to maintain that connection. This is one of the reasons why I decided to pay a homage to Dominican Republic by creating a collection for the UT Fashion Show that reflects what my culture means to me.

VENEZUELA

Daniela Perez is a journalism student who grew up in Florida after moving to the U.S. from Venezuela when she was two years old. She believes Venezuela is unlike any other country in South America.

SM: What aspects make your culture unique?

Daniela Perez: Venezuela is geographically diverse because it is located in one of the best areas in the world. We have mountains, beaches, plateaus, and we are on top of a rich oil rig that helped us economically for many years. It has the highest waterfall in the world, which you might recognize if you have ever seen the movie Up. Many people debate on whether arepas are Colombian or Venezuelan, but I believe they are originally from my country.

SM: How do you express your culture on a daily basis?

DP: I think we are very different in terms of culture to other countries. Growing up it was very difficult to keep my Venezuelan roots because I grew up in Florida. I am grateful for the opportunities America has given me, and I believe that my two cultures, American and Venezuelan, have been able to nurture me in distinct ways. I am lucky enough to call two different places home. I am still connected to my culture. Venezuelan women are known for their beauty, and I think I express that when I go out with my friends because I like to dress up. Every time I meet a Venezuelan here in the U.S., I feel like I have known them for years. Even though the crisis has been devastating, it seems like we have all found common ground and come together. I think about my country every day, which is why I try to read the news to keep myself informed about the situation back home. I aspire to become a journalist and go back to Venezuela in order to contribute to its improvement. •

Tatiana Lopez, who was born in Colombia and raised in Costa Rica, is a second-year Public Relations student at the University of Texas. She loves learning about new cultures as much as she loves oatmeal cookies.

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