John Marshall and Mayo high school clubs co-hosts quinceañera-inspired dance

May 4—ROCHESTER — Mayo High School and John Marshall High School recently combined the efforts of their new clubs to host a quinceañera-inspired dance on May 4, 2024.

The La Familia Latina club from John Marshall High School partnered with the Latines Unides club at Mayo High School to host a dance to connect with the wider Latino community in RPS high schools and share a deep cultural bond together.

"The Minnesota Department of Education released the data a couple of weeks ago, that we were almost 20% Latino in our community," said Christina Freund, the teacher advisor for the Latines Unides at Mayo. "Sixteen percent of the students at Mayo are Latino. At JM, it's 9% and Century it's 10%. At ALC, it's 28%. So we have a lot of Latinos in the community, but you don't see them together like this view. The club and this party is a chance for them to come together."

Both of these clubs are new to their school. The clubs were formed after both high schools began offering Spanish for Spanish speakers classes.

"We would not have had enough students to offer a high school class for them is because there's nine of them coming to Mayo and eight of them going to Century so what we did was, we pulled the heritage kids who have grown up speaking Spanish, but never really learned to read and write in Spanish and then we had four classes," said Freund. "When these kids came together, it was a really cool, authentic cultural connection. There's way more heritage kids in there than immersion kids and they wanted to have parties or they wanted to do things that had Spanish food and Spanish music. So then we started the club."

For the teachers involved in these clubs, it's all about the students feeling connected to their identity and supported by their peers. They want to offer a safe and welcoming space for Latino and Hispanic students to gather freely.

"I teach Spanish and Spanish-to-Spanish speakers like Christina and we both started these clubs for kids who speak Spanish already," said Gloria Torres-Herbeck, the teacher advisor for La Familia Latina at John Marshall High School. "They're getting value for something that they already have. They already have cultural competency. They're bilingual. They speak Spanish and English. So having them come together with that shared ability and background is super fun. They're getting leadership opportunities and they're getting all kinds of bonding fun, a new place to be and have fun and feel good."

The quinceañera-inspired dance was the first big event the clubs hosted. For many of the attendees, it was an opportunity for their students to have a quinceañera who might not have had one. For others, this was an opportunity to wear again the extravagant gown they had gotten for their special day.

One of the teachers even gave one of the students her daughter's dress to wear for the event, said Ariana Becerra Rosas, one of the student organizers from John Marshall High School.

For many students, it was a chance to embrace and share their culture with others. The club at John Marshall has anywhere from 17 to 25 students at each meeting and Mayo has around 58 active participants. The club at Mayo High School has to meet in the cafeteria since they wouldn't fit in Freund's classroom.

"It feels really amazing," said Becerra Rosas. "It just makes me so happy. It's so nice to show my culture to other people, people that share my culture that understand me and ... others obviously that aren't from the culture. It's just so nice to show that we aren't just the stereotypes and we're more than just our food or what we say or how we act."

Becerra Rosas is looking forward to the future of the club and her involvement. She enjoys being able to encourage others to be proud of their heritage.

"Our town really doesn't have that much representation of Latinos and me, obviously not being born in Mexico, I still have those roots," said Becerra Rosas. "So it's just really important for me to show my culture and tell the world like who we are and how amazing it is, how beautiful because I feel like a lot of people really don't know the true meaning of like Mexican culture, or they believe in Mexican culture."