Arizona Latino and Arts Cultural Center celebrates Hispanic heritage

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People celebrated Hispanic heritage during November's First Fridays at the Arizona Latino and Arts Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix. (Jessica Zook/DD)

People of all ethnicities and ages celebrated Hispanic heritage Friday at the Arizona Latino and Arts Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix.

Since October the center has been more focused on featuring artists from different parts of the world as opposed to primarily showing art produced by local artists.

As part of November’s First Fridays, the center showcased an artist from Mexico, Nicolas de Jesus. Much of Jesus’ art is influenced by Dia de los Muertos, a Hispanic celebration of the lives of loved ones who have died.

Using a specific technique of acrylic painting that his father developed and that has become popular in Mexico, Jesus’ art is inspired by everything, including nature, people and life.

“I try to celebrate the simple things in life — ordinary traditional scenes,” Jesus said.

Two other artists were featured during the event, including Phoenix native Angela Giron who photographed in Vietnam to show how the Vietnam War affected her, her family and her veteran brother.

“All people want to eat, support their family and love,” Giron said about what she learned in Vietnam.

The evening’s program consisted of food, music, dancing, storytelling, acting, films and theater presented by people of all cultural backgrounds.

“We’re mostly here to show the diversity of the artists,” said Mario Mendia, operations coordinator for the cultural center.

The center’s goal is to teach, promote and disseminate Latin American culture in Arizona and the United States, according to the center’s website.

“This (center) was created to try and explain those interesting parts of Latin American culture that (people) can understand once they get to know it,” Mendia said.

Throughout the evening, Tradiciones Dance Company performed four native Mexican dances from different regions, ASU graduate Hugo Estrada read a rough version of a story he had written and Senate candidate Jerry Lewis spoke about his experience as an exchange student in Guerrero, Mexico.

Mendia said the center is welcoming of all kinds of people in order to help them see the similarities within cultures.

“Celebrating the differences and recognizing things we all have in common helps to create a stronger civilization,” he said.

Theater senior Abraham Ntonya said guests felt welcome at the event because of the center’s local and relaxed demeanor.

“I don’t feel like a stranger,” Ntonya said. “We all share something very similar in terms of how we express our culture.”

Contact the reporter at jessica.zook@asu.edu