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Cornell, Ithaca College students spread word on Latina/o resources

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

Salma Shitia '18, far right, and Vivian Vazquez '18, center standing, work with staff members from Culture Ithaca as they paint part of an art installation that will be moved to Community School of Music and Arts in Ithaca.

Cornell and Ithaca College students have joined forces with community members to celebrate Latinx Heritage month with an art exhibit of community-sourced photographs, memorabilia and cultural relics. The exhibit, Ithaca Balcón Criollo, opens Friday, Oct. 6, at the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA).

The exhibit is a class project for Cultures and Communities, taught by Debra Castillo, the Emerson Hinchliff Chair of Hispanic Studies and professor of comparative literature, and Carolina Osorio Gil, director of Cultura Ithaca and engagement coordinator for Cornell’s Latina/o Studies Program. Students in the class have been collaborating with local Latina/o organizations and students of Enrique González-Conty, an assistant professor of Spanish at Ithaca College.

Balcón Criollo refers to balconies or porches on Latin America houses, which are often decorated by families in meaningful ways. Students and community members have been collecting items from local residents that reflect their Latina/o identities or relate to Latin American performing or visual arts.

Along with the art exhibit, students created a new website for Cultura Ithaca and are shooting videos in Spanish for Latina/o organizations. Those videos are being shown during Cine Con Cultura, a film festival that runs through Oct. 15.

Students also worked with local artists Mar Pérez and Osorio Gil to sketch ideas for structures they plan to build of plywood, cardboard and other materials to create porch-like displays in the CSMA galleries.

“People are loaning things to us that are important to them to create this picture of the Latinx community in Ithaca,” said Pérez, who is designing the exhibit with the students. “Each object will include a story of how it connects to the person.”

The exhibit features paintings, cloth, costumes, writings, photos and other decorative or household items.

They also plan to offer a balcón for children and will leave one balcón open for people who want to add objects to the display as it continues throughout November. The Oct. 6 opening coincides with Gallery Night Ithaca, a walkable tour of art openings and other cultural events sponsored by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. During the November Gallery Night, Nov. 3, Balcón Criollo will celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with some changes to the exhibit and special events, Osorio Gil said.

“I try to be involved with the Latinx community as much as possible and I know the Latinx community goes beyond the Hill,” said Miguel Martinez ’18, a government major and Latina/o studies minor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “This course gave me the opportunity to network and really get to know the people in other community organizations.”

The video project builds on work from the class when it was offered in past years, Castillo said. “Our students have done interviews with local organizations to learn more about their work, but this year, we decided to film those interviews and share them because there are so many people who don’t know about the services they offer,” she said.

The films will be useful for organizations trying to reach Ithaca’s transient community of students, farmworkers and other residents who aren’t connected to Latina/o resources and perhaps aren’t fluent in English or written Spanish.

At the end of the semester, students will develop a comprehensive learning portfolio on their semester’s work. They will answer questions that focus on the challenges of making a difference under difficult circumstances.

“I wanted to take this class because it was service-oriented and we’d be applying the things we’ve learned within the community,” Vivian Vázquez ’18, an ILR School student who serves as president of the Cuban American Student Association.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.