The Spanish and Latino Students’ Association (SALSA) held their 26th annual Tropicana Dinner Celebration in conjunction with Meliora Weekend last Friday, Oct. 11.
This year’s event, titled “The Evocation of Art; Una Cultura, Our Impact” advertised a focus on Latino art and a celebration of the “richness of Latino culture.” However, poor planning, an overzealous keynote address, and an extreme deficiency of entertainment felt far from a celebration and in no way reflected the wonderful world of Latino heritage.
Students, families, and alumni trekked up to the May Room Friday evening where they exchanged their tickets for table assignments, each labeled with a different Latino country. The majority of guests were formally attired, identifying themselves as Tropicana veterans. But the lack of dress code advertisement made the underdressed parents and freshman feel uncomfortable.
The event began with an introduction from SALSA president, Angela Rojas, pointing out the paintings displayed around the room and announcing Tropicana’s ambitious goal to give guests a “new appreciation” for Latino art and culture.
Up first was energetic keynote speaker Annette Ramos, founder of the Rochester Latino Theatre Company. While Ramos was certainty passionate about Latino art, her lengthy speech was clearly directed to her “Latino sisters” and not the diverse Tropicana audience, at times her tone even verged on Latino supremacy.
Ramos’ fiery address was followed by the presentation of the SALSERO Award to Dr. Benjamin Hafensteiner, whose absence was compensated with a brief video acceptance.
Dinner consisted of hearty portions of Spanish cuisine courtesy of local Rochester restaurant “El Latino.” But instead of efficiently receiving prefilled plates, guests were made to wait, unentertained, for their individual “country’s” turn in the serving line. This resulted in a distinct lag in the program and many unnecessarily hungry and impatient guests.
With each table sufficiently supplied with adequate, if not completely authentic, restaurant food, it was finally time for the event’s “entertainment portion.” But how SALSA expected just three brief and disconnected performances to exemplify the “richness” of an entire culture or offer a new appreciation for anything is a mystery.
In all fairness, the performances were by far the highlight of the night, building with each new act.
While things started off somewhat slowly with Anansa Benbow’s sleepy saxophone piece, things definitely livened up when Jonathan Diaz took the stage (and not just because of the microphone’s piercing refusal to cooperate).
A spoken word poet, Diaz performed three of his impressive works, addressing issues of diversity and the need for cultural tolerance and understanding.
The entertainment highlight came with the ever-captivating SALSEROS dance troop, who treated the Tropicana audience to a lively medley of Latino dances for the event’s finale.
The program wrapped up with cake at 8:45 p.m., over an hour before the advertised conclusion that should have been filled with a fuller and more entertaining display of Latino performing arts, such as a skit from Ramos’ theatre company.
All in all, Tropicana was worth the $12 admission simply to support the few talented Latino artists that were featured.
However, much must be improved for the event to live up to its lofty ambitions.
Rudd is a member of the class of 2017.