SALSA brings back Latin prom to celebrate community and diversity 

A+Kent+State+student+dances+with+the+Mexican+flag+during+the+Latin+Prom.

Matthew Brown

A Kent State student dances with the Mexican flag during the Latin Prom.

Jesse Khalil, Reporter

The wooden dance floor vibrated to the sound of Latin American music. Colorful strobe lights, smiling faces, sparkling ball gowns and energetic dancing brought the Kent State ballroom to life during the Latin prom Friday night.

Kent State junior Miranda Sepulveda (left), president of SALSA, poses with a fellow student for a picture with the Latin Prom banner. (Matthew Brown)

Latin prom is a newer tradition in SALSA’s thirty-year history, said SALSA President Miranda Sepulveda. The event was created to offer a cultural rendition of a classic American prom and bring the community together to celebrate and connect with Hispanic culture.

Latin prom was unable to be put on the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that meetings can be in person, Sepulveda was eager to bring back the tradition.

“I thought this would be a great event to bring back to celebrate the hard work that we have done as an organization as well as bringing back a tradition,” Sepulveda said. “I feel like this prom has even more meaning because it is like an end of the year celebration of being back in person and building this new community.”

Attendees came dressed in formal attire ready to sing, dance and eat.

Unlike a typical American prom, the music consisted solely of Latin genres, including Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and Latin pop. Attendees swayed effortlessly showing off the steps they learned during the SALSA dancing event in February. The prom also had a variety of classic Mexican dishes such as empanadas, rice, tostones, tacos and maduros that guests were invited to enjoy.

Attendees ranged from people who are interested in Spanish culture and people who come from countries that don’t have prom to those who live in the U.S. and want a second prom or people who missed out on prom due to the pandemic.

“I was most excited about finally being able to go to a prom,” said Chrissy Kropf, an attendee who heard about the dance through her friends on campus. “My high school canceled prom because of COVID, so I never got to dress up and dance with my friends.”

Latin prom gave Kropf the opportunity to meet different types of people while learning about their culture, she said.

Prom and school dances are American traditions that are not seen in Latin American countries, Tatiana Fernàndez Pèrez, a Ph. D. student from Puerto Rico, and her partner Eli Pèrez said.

“I have only been in the U.S. for one year and love to learn about the traditions here,” Pèrez said. “Growing up in Puerto Rico, I was never given the opportunity to go to a prom or any type of big school dance.”

Latin prom not only gives students the opportunity to attend their first prom, but it also gives people a space to connect over cultural similarities.

“We get to talk about similar kinds of music and food, which are the two things that really make you feel detached from home,” Tatiana said. “At Latin prom, the Spanish music and all the food is making me feel right at home.”

For members like Tori Hockenberry, a freshman environmental geology major, Latin prom gave her the opportunity to feel comfortable and confident going to a formal dance, something she would not have done in high school.

Having a prom oriented to her background makes her feel comfortable and welcome, Hockenberry said.

“There are a lot of people here with the same backgrounds and it is not as embarrassing as a normal student body prom because I probably would have never went or known anyone there,” she said. “However, having friends and knowing everyone here feels great.”

The attendees of the Latin Prom on April 22, 2022. (Matthew Brown)

SALSA provides members with a sense of community. Members are given a space to share their personal stories and connect with one another, Pèrez said.

“When you meet somebody, who is vaguely close to you from any Latin American country, there is always a lot more overlap compared to people native to Ohio,” Verdes said. “You have these unique experiences and it is really nice to be able to talk about them with people. It is a lot of things you did not know you missed until you see or experience them again.”

The group embraces and celebrates diversity. The unconditional support the SALSA community has for one another inspires members like Hockenberry to embrace all sides of herself.

“SALSA has really helped me express my gender and sexuality,” Hockenberry said.

To Hockenberry, the SALSA community is a group of people who are there to support and connect with each other, she said.

“Having people who are just there for you and connect to you; it doesn’t matter the mental state I am in they are always there to support and love me. It does not matter what you look like or how you dress, you are automatically accepted for who you are.”

Jesse Khalil is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]