Two girls dancing, holding hands in a crowd
Features & Articles

Festival showcases Latin American and Caribbean cultures

  • Global
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Our City/Our Campus
  • Center for Latin American Studies

As the sun began to set, twinkling lights around a musical stage awoke. Salsa music filled the air as performers donning colorful costumes with feathers and beads flooded the dance floor. The laughter of onlookers reverberated as more participants joined the fun. The annual Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) festival was in full swing.

The festival, which took place on Oct. 2, 2021, from 7-10 p.m. outside the William Pitt Union, honors the diasporic Latin American and Caribbean cultures in the Pitt and Pittsburgh community.

“Since the first CLAS festival in 1979, the event has grown each year, making it one of the largest gatherings of Latinos in Western Pennsylvania,” said Alexis Takoushian, the administrative and program assistant for CLAS and the 2022 festival coordinator.

The free community event usually lasts all day and typically draws thousands of people. This year, due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the festival was restricted to students, faculty and staff.

“Although this year’s festival was much shorter and smaller in size, we were still able to share a good sample of the spirit and joy of our annual celebration,” said Takoushian.

The event featured performances, food, arts, crafts and information tables as it has in the past. Vendors included staples such as La Palapa and Tango food trucks, music by DJ Juan Diego and performances by the Colombian salsa band Karibe Son, the Pittsburgh Samba Group and Timbeleza, a street Samba drum Batacuda group. Takoushian said the latter two “teamed up to provide an incredible display of Brazilian culture through samba dancing and percussion instruments.”

“The festival provides a space and a platform for Latinx, Latin American and Caribbean people in Western Pennsylvania to share essential aspects of their customs, folklore and traditions,” added Luz Amanda Hank, assistant director for CLAS partnerships and programming and this year’s festival coordinator. “The festival is a crossroads for diverse of interest groups, community members, businesses, organizations and institutions. This exposure is critical in a time when our communities have faced tremendous challenges exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. While the festival serves as a celebration, it also encourages students to reflect on how they can appreciate, understand, get involved and support these communities.”

She added that the festival’s success is a testament to “the true, strong and long-standing collaboration between Pitt and the local Latinx, Latin American communities.”

Looking for more ways to engage with Latinx cultures? Register for Pitt’s virtual Latinx Connect Conference on Oct. 14-16.


— Kara Henderson, photography by Erin Ninehouser