Latin American SA crowned winners at UB's International Fiesta

LASA integrates family and immigration into crowd-pleasing performance


Latin American Student Association (LASA) examined the troubles of immigration policies through a familial theme at International Fiesta on Saturday night.

LASA’s performance began with a family squeezing together into a photo frame and border agents separating the family. A brick wall appeared on stage as the family split into two sides – the U.S. on one side and Latin America on the other.

This year’s International Fiesta competition brought in more than 250 performers participating in eleven different pieces in the Center for the Arts. Aside from LASA’s victory, Filipino American SA won second place and Malaysian SA won third place. Five judges ranging from Campus Living to International Student Scholar and Services (ISSS) evaluated the performances based on technicality, cultural relativity and creativity.

Student Association (SA) distributed one thousand undergraduate student tickets and there were tickets available for public sale. The event’s budget was roughly $20,000, according to SA International Council Coordinator Danny Vo.

President Donald Trump audio clips and news reports played between emotionally charged Latin dances. The on-stage family eventually reunited through dance and rejoined the photo frame – a bond that couldn’t be broken by the wall.

The crowd erupted at the performance’s conclusion with exuberant cheers before the LASA received their first place trophy.

Jamersin Redfern, president of LASA and senior psychology and history major, performed in his second International Fiesta and said it felt surreal considering his organization didn’t place in the competition last year.

“I believe [taking] first place shows what can be done and so much more,” Redfern said. “If we stand up and fight for what we believe in, things will work out that way. You just have to keep believing and keep working towards it.”

Hours of endless practices paid off for LASA’s 30-plus performers, with practice ending at 5 a.m. on the morning of the show.

On-stage, dances like a Brazilian-style zouk reflected post-election emotions. Dancers moved to reggaeton to represent a powerful, emotional release and an upbeat Cuban-style Rueda number brought circular merger to the family unit.

Thais Nuñez, dance liaison for LASA and senior psychology major explained some of the choices for the performance.

“Latin dances tend to be sensual in nature and we’re trying to sway away from that whole sensuality and focus on the power of what we stand for, giving that emotion, connection, and frustration and putting that in the dance,” Nuñez said.

Before winning, LASA performers were told to try their best to get their message across to the audience. For many of the group’s performers, this message hit home.

Jeffrey Taveras, a senior psychology major, performed with LASA for his fourth time. This year, he performed as a father who was separated from his two daughters. Taveras, who was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the U.S. at three years old, admired how the performance encapsulates his family.

Taveras thinks some people will disagree with the organization’s stance on immigration, but said there has to be a level of respect for differences.

“In the media, there’s a lot of things going out there about the wall – which is obviously something separating Mexico as a country and the United States but it’s more than the wall, it’s about fear and ‘people coming in here,’” Taveras said.

UB Glee opened the night with the National Anthem as multiple MCs hosted the Fiesta. The ceremony holders dazzled with humor and hype and extended their hands and frequently invited students on stage.

MASA took third place for their depiction of a complicated mother and son relationship, which leaves the mother implementing a curse upon her son. The performers took the crowd on serene trips with outfits that flashed reflective blues and smoothly executed acting, which included the mother being “tossed” to the stage.

FASA’s second place performance was told from the perspective of a father talking to his son. He explained to his son the story of how he met his mother and how the community around them became a family.

The organization included cultural facets like “makatod” – bird dance where performers flapped feathered wings – and “tinikling” – a dance where performers hopped between poles on the stage and on top of benches.

Dhenise Angeles, president of FASA and junior intended nursing major, believes all of the late night practices were worth getting second place.

“My team did such an amazing job so I couldn’t be more happy for all of us, not even us but LASA and MASA as well. I’m happy with where we [placed] and no one was expecting to win so I just told my team to have fun and we did,” Angeles said.

Last year’s winners, Indian SA (ISA) did not place at the show but displayed Bollywood, garba, raas and other Indian dances.

Sahiba Rupal, president and International Fiesta team captain for ISA, thought her team did a great job regardless of the result and said all of the organizations in International Council are like a family, win or lose.

Other organizations like Organization of Arab Students Dabke Troupe (OAS), brought belly-dancing and Lebanese-style footwork with the message of different cultures coming together in spite of dividing factors.

Sri Kivan, a senior mechanical engineering major, is studying abroad from the United Kingdom and performed as part of MASA.

“It’s exciting and it feels like a dream because I saw the whole videos from UB, so I’ve seen this event before and today I’m part of the act, so it feels really nice and exciting,” Kivan said.

First timers to the event enjoyed the different cultural elements on display.

Taylor Brown, a senior sociology and health and human services major ,and Kuda Kaseke, a senior accounting major from Zimbabwe, attended the event for the first time and both said they enjoyed the show.

“I regret not coming before but I was really impressed by the quality of the performances. I loved the outfits and how colorful they are,” Brown said.

Kaseke enjoyed LASA’s performance and said she knew as soon as they had finished that they would win. She enjoyed the overall message of their dance and how powerful it was.

“The story that they’re telling is so relevant and it’s not just for LASA - it’s for everybody and it relates to all of us, especially international students,” Kaseke said.

Redfern closed with a message to all performers and audience members. He said the meaning behind the dance is much more powerful than winning any award.

“If you can get the message across, it relates to so many people,” Redfern said. “The fact that it can relate to so many people show support – it helps out and it shows we’re not just about the Latin community, we’re about everyone in international council and everyone that is struggling to stay in America to have a better life for themselves.”

Benjamin Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at