Ortiz: Latinidad 34 months after the end of the world

Sterling Kossuth Ortiz, Senior Staffer

It was one of those magical moments, one when a writer feels the urge to pull out their notebook and jot down notes. 

I was watching the Arts Alliance production of “In the Heights, specifically the “Carnaval del Barrio” scene displaying performers’ flags. I  remember seeing the shadow blue globe in the Brazilian flag, the white star among the royal blue triangle in the Puerto Rican flag, the red-blue-orange combo in the Armenian flag and many more. 

As a man with two very different flags in my veins, Hungarian and Puerto Rican, I love seeing people proud of who they are. It inspires me.

The flags reminded me of the beauty of Latinidad at Northwestern. As a fifth-year undergraduate student at NU, I have seen firsthand the transformation of Latinidad on campus. I saw the nascent Latine community I knew as a freshman and its rapid decline with virtual learning. I saw the years following, when we all struggled to host events over Zoom and balance our responsibilities to other people with our responsibility to ourselves. 

Our community’s great leaders, organizations and cadre still write the story of this year. I am honored to be a small cog in our great machine. This story is only my own — a small part of the canon, not its entirety. It is impossible for one story to capture the entire Northwestern Latine experience. 

The great exodus of NU students in March 2020 was a terrifying time. This was challenging for community-based student groups, which desperately tried to hold onto their programming. Most students had no idea what to do or expect during 2020, and as soon as we got a handle on one COVID-19 reality, there was new advice and a new variant to adapt to. Focusing on what you can do for your club was understandably a secondary concern. 

The 2020-21 academic year was even sadder than the previous spring and summer. In my eyes, the groups who kept our culture going were the Dale Duro Latín Dance Company, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Multicultural Greek Council, specifically Omega Delta Phi, Kappa Delta Chi, Sigma Lambda Gamma, Lambda Theta Alpha, and La Unidad Latina Lambda Upsilon Lambda.

Dale Duro worked its tail off to have a virtual spring dance show, practicing over Zoom to create a streamed performance. The SHPE created a thriving community of Latine engineers. MGC threw everything at the wall regarding events and recruitment to survive during this period of great adversity. All five Latine-founded multicultural chapters had the dog in them and never gave up.

I name all these groups so people in the present and future can understand the sacrifices our student leaders made to keep Latine culture alive at NU. As a brother of Omega Delta Phi and former President of the Multicultural Greek Council, I can attest to the collective work of these organizations, crawling on our bellies to create engaging virtual events and fill the long, lonely hours during harsh restrictions. 

Thomas Paine wrote, “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” and he was right — there has been no glory greater than seeing what nine months of hell produced.

To say it was one person or group that kept working during the nadir of the pandemic would be a lie. These groups preserved the bricks of culture that make up the foundation for everything Latinidad that exists today at NU.

The 2021-22 academic year also brought with it the revival of three cornerstone Latine groups: Alianza, Ballet Folklórico and Mariachi NU. All three groups were foundations of Latinidad at NU before the pandemic. 

With new and emboldened leaders, these groups came back in Sept. 2021 and found strong interest from Latine students. Alianza started to plan for general events, while Ballet Folklórico and Mariachi planned performances.

The apex of last year’s rebirth came during spring 2022. Dale Duro, Ballet Folklórico and Mariachi all prepared for their first in-person shows since 2019, and Alianza was preparing to host Festival LatiNU, which turned out to be a standing-room only event, crushing expected turnout. The SHPE was consistent, with its former president of two years handing the reins to new leadership who deigned to keep the success rolling. 

Speaking from the Latine Greek point of view in that quarter, this quarter was the cap to a very strong year. My fraternity Omega Delta Phi added two new members in spring, marking six new members that academic year, and breaking into double-digit membership for the first time since the early 2010s. Kappa Delta Chi continued its membership renaissance by initiating four new members that quarter and initiating a total of nine new members that year. 

Spring 2022 was a beautiful time to be Latine.

Latines at NU paint the grand tapestry with our own stories every day. So far, we’ve continued to succeed. Our student organizations are thriving; we have both new members in old clubs and new clubs in general.

It is upon this work that NU Latinidad stands today, 34 months after the end of the world as we once knew it.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP fifth year. You can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.