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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

A night to remember

UNIdos hosts their annual Noche de Gala
Pictured above are UNIdos’ class of 2024 graduates. Back row, left to right: Esmeralda Luna, Yeili Aleman, Mireya Patino, Brenda Hernandez Garcia. Front row, left to right: Juan Daniel Lopez, Iverson Aragon, Pablo Cuevas Montes. Not pictured: Karina Ortiz and Vanessa Pogyo.

As the UNIdos community came together to share a meal, enjoy live music and dance the night away at the annual Noche de Gala event, it also celebrated closing chapters and the start of new journeys for the group’s graduates.

The annual end of year event for UNIdos, a student organization dedicated to creating community and understanding of Latiné culture at UNI, brought people of many backgrounds to the Maucker Union Ballrooms Saturday night. Students, faculty, staff and others gathered to celebrate the group’s accomplishments over the year.

“I’m very happy,” UNIdos President Lizbeth Garcia Tellez said. “It’s very exciting to see everyone come together, which is the whole point of UNIdos, and again, just seeing everyone really come out has been really amazing.”

The UNIdos executive team had been planning the event since January, and they brought in several local vendors and entertainers. The night started with a catered meal from Taqueria Los Reyes in Waterloo. Later on, guests danced to live music by Des Moines-based band Los Chavalos de Zacatecas and closed the festivities with DJ Tejeda from Marshalltown.

We’re not just breaking barriers that are placed onto us. We’re shattering them.

— Jesús Lizarraga-Estrada, UNI Director of Student Success and Retention

Aside from the celebration, the night set the stage to honor the graduating members of UNIdos. Nine students were honored for their time spent in the organization, including Brenda Hernandez, a criminology and criminal justice major. She has been a member of UNIdos for the whole two years she has been at UNI.

“As a first gen, it’s just another community I can be a part of that relates to me a little bit more than other students,” Hernandez said. “It’s definitely meant a lot for the community aspect of it.”

Saturday was the second Noche de Gala she has attended, and she felt that this year stepped it up another level.

“Last year was a smaller group, so seeing this many people, this many faculty and staff definitely means a lot for everyone,” she said.

Garcia Tellez added, “Seeing our graduates is a little sad just because they have been in UNIdos, some of them, for four or more years… I feel like we have built such a strong community together and UNIdos means united, and I feel like that’s definitely what Noche de Gala and UNIdos is all about.”

Garcia Tellez will continue to serve as UNIdos president next year, and is looking forward to hosting more events and general body meetings. She encourages all students to get involved with UNIdos events, no matter their background.

As one more touch to the event, UNIdos invited guest speaker Jesús Lizarraga-Estrada, UNI Director of Student Success and Retention, who was inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame in October 2023.

Lizarraga-Estrada’s speech told the history of education for Latiné people in the United States, reminding the crowd — and the spring 2024 graduates — of the strides the community has made throughout history, and the ongoing opportunities the future holds.

“Today, we are able to gather together as a result of resilience, sacrifice and undying hope passed down through the generation of Latinos,” he said.

“Let us remember, our history is not just a narrative of struggle, but also one of triumph. It’s a reminder of our ancestors’ courage and determination, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that their stories are not forgotten,” he continued.

“It’s time for these spaces to change, to adapt to the rich diversity that we bring. Let us be the catalyst for that change, refusing to compromise our identities and values for the sake of acceptance. Your presence in spaces where you’re not expected is a revolutionary act,” Lizarraga-Estrada said. “We’re not just breaking barriers that are placed onto us. We’re shattering them.”

Lea el artículo en español aquí.

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