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Students and Oxford community come together to celebrate Hispanic culture at UniDiversity

UniDiversity celebrates many different aspects of Latin culture, including dance.
UniDiversity celebrates many different aspects of Latin culture, including dance.

For 20 years now, Miami University has celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with the UniDiversity festival. Every September, including this year on Friday, Sept. 22, Miami students and Oxford locals alike travel Uptown to pet alpacas and donkeys, taste authentic Latin cuisine and enjoy live music and other performances.

UniDiversity is more than just a festival. It’s a time and place for the community of Oxford to unite and celebrate a culture that’s largely underrepresented.

“It’s important to highlight different groups of people to make sure they’re seen,” said Elaina Winslow, a junior biochemistry and food systems/food studies major.

Joel Eccles, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said that events like this are important since the Latino community “needs a point of gathering to share their culture.”

These conversations highlight the importance of events like this. Students understand that these celebrations mean a lot to the Latin community, as it helps them feel not only seen but understood.

Photo by Sarah Frosch | The Miami Student
The crowd at UniDiversity follows along to a dance led by special guests.

In order for  events like UniDiversity to be successful, immense amounts of planning are needed. Since its first year, the UniDiversity Planning Committee, directed by Jacqueline Rioja Velarde, has been up for the challenge.

"I have students not only from the Latinx community ... I have students from the equestrian club who will knock on my door and say, ‘Jackie what can we do for you?’" Rioja Velarde said.

The name of the festival was coined by a retired Venezuelan Miami Professor who said that there is unity in diversity.

“That is the mission and the core goal of the festival,” Rioja Velarde said.

The festival can take upward of nine months to plan. Everyone involved — from the volunteers to performers to the police — are contacted months in advance to ensure the event runs smoothly, and with this being the UniDiversity’s 20th anniversary, extra time and effort was put in to make sure this year’s festival was as successful as possible.

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Ballet group el Corazon de Mexico was invited to perform this year, just as they were 20 years ago at the inaugural UniDiversity festival. Despite the name of the group, they didn’t perform a typical ballet. Instead, pairs of men and women sporting traditional suits and dresses alternated in taking the stage. The women incorporated their colorful dresses into their routine as the men presented their sombreros. 

Throughout the 300-400 people that attended, el Corazon de Mexico contributed more to the pleasant yet exhilarating atmosphere. With a smile in every direction, expressive dance moves going on throughout and even a free piece of candy being given for spinning a wheel, anyone could enter and feel an instant sense of comfortability and inclusion. 

Beyond the abundance of colorful and high-energy music, the festival took a shift into a more subtle and peaceful tone with renowned flute player, Nestor Torres. His smooth and inviting flute playing set the tone for the second half of the festival as people conversed and laughed while the sun went down.

A look at the atmosphere and fun of the UniDiversity Festival. Benny Farbstein and Benjamin Schriml

The tone of the music blended perfectly with the immensely flavorful and comforting food. Zhiqing Su, a graduate student geology major, said that the environment really “allows students to relax and enjoy their Friday night.”

After 20 years of planning this event, Rioja Velarde said this is her final year on the committee. However, given the success of UniDiversity and understanding just how important it is, this may not be the last time Oxford is treated with such a unique and beautiful display of unity and diversity.