April 9 2014 12:00 AM

Music festival celebrates 10 days of Latin American culture

Two weeks ago, the film “Cesar Chavez,” featuring Michael Pena as the titular civil rights leader, debuted at Lansing’s NCG Cinemas. It is one of only 664 theaters in the country — and around 10 in Michigan — that are showing the movie, and its local release was supported by a petition campaign launched by local Latin Americans that garnered over 250 signatures. A spokeswoman for NCG said the screenings are getting “good” business, including two of the daily showings that feature Spanish subtitles.

The petition was a strong indicator that local Latin-American community takes pride in its heritage.

“We think it’s about time to show others where we (are) in our society and communities.” said Ricardo Lorenz, associate professor of composition at Michigan State University and co-director of the Latin IS America Festival, which starts today. (Schedule on page 12.) “For the longest time, I’ve seen Latin America continue to be seen as a foreign or exoticized culture.”

The Latin IS America Festival returns for a second year of celebrating mid-Michigan’s rich Latin American culture. The festival, coordinated by MSU’s College of Music continues through April 19. The 10- day event will highlight Latin American culture through concerts, lectures and parties at various locations on MSU’s campus.

Lorenz said cities with big Latino populations like New York and Miami have many festivals that showcase Latin American culture, but portray it as foreign. He’s concerned about Michigan because he has been here for eight years and said it’s difficult to find cultural aspects outside of Grand Rapids.

“There is a lack of Hispanic culture (on display) in Michigan — it’s almost invisible,” Lorenz said. “We can change that and make it very visible. This is outrageous because one of the first (wave of) Mexican immigrants came to Michigan.” The Latin American community has strong ties to agriculture, which is a big part of the reason Michigan has such a large Latino population. Lorenz said last year’s debut event was a success, drawing thousands of Latinos and fans of Latin culture to a series of events spread across 10 days. He said he hopes numbers will be even better this year.

Georgina De Moya, a sophomore international student from the Dominican Republic, said she’s looking forward to attending this year’s festivities.

“I love that MSU takes the time to acknowledge the beauty of Latin American music and share it with the community,” De Moya said. “It shows how culturally diverse our campus is.”

Dali Quartet, a classical roots and Latin soul string quartet, is scheduled to perform.

“Being part of MSU’s forward thinking and esteemed festival is an honor,” said Carlos Rubio, who plays second violin in the Dali Quartet. “We are inspired by the festival’s lineup of some of the top artistic and scholarly minds in the field.”

Two lectures will also be given by Cuban musicologist Miriam Escudero, whose discussions include the choral works of Cuban composers Esteban Salas and Cayetano Pagueras. She will also speak on the musical interconnections between cathedrals and churches in Cuba and Mexico. Escudero is a professor at Colegio Universitario San Geronimo and the University of Arts of Cuba, and has won several awards for her research in music.

Other events include concerts that will showcase music anchored in Latin American tradition. There will be performances by the MSU Percussion Ensemble, MU- SIQUE 21, Tejano Sound Band and the Children’s Ballet Theatre of Michigan.

Lorenz said that performances will display vivid visual cues of the strong Latin culture for the audience. The festival has first-time collaborations with institutes such as the children’s choir program, which will display classic Latin American music and modern dance. He said he hopes these connections will expand the reach of the festival, a sentiment shared by De Moya.

“The festival is important for culture sharing,” De Moya said. “Latin music is a mix of sounds and rhythms that people can relate to, and it doesn’t matter where they come from.”

The festivities will include similarities between all cultures, even if the method of communication is different. For example, the university chorale show on April 13 will pay homage to traditional Chilean “cacerolazo” protests, which involves demonstrators banging pots and pans. It may sound unusual, but the roots have strong similarities to peaceful protests worldwide, including one recently here in America.

“This links the passive forms of resistance that happen all around the world,” Lorenz said. “It has connections with the (Occupy) Wall Street (movement) in the U.S.”

The festival will end with a dance party on April 19 starring the Tejano Sound Band, a seven member group featuring MSU Professor of Jazz Diego Rivera on saxophone. The event will have dancing and food.

Lorenz said migrant workers are the ones who laid the groundwork for all the mid-Michigan ties still present today. He said they brought their skills, culture, music and food with them to the U.S.; this transition is displayed prominently in the Chavez movie. Chavez made several appearances in Lansing and played a key role in changing the way the country looked at Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

“Here is the case of a man who was able to change the entire way Americans thought of farmers and people who worked in the fields,” Lorenz said. “Agrarian reform in the U.S. started with Chicanos like Cesar Chavez.”