A fresh breeze from the Andes blew over UC Berkeley’s International House Thursday evening.
Residents, alumni and their guests packed the dining commons to hear the pre-Columbian flutes of an Ecuadorian group and feast on a culinary mosaic from Latin America. The tables came alive with Mexican tamales and ajiaco soup, Argentine beef empanadas, Caribbean avocado salad and Spanish churros.
The victuals were a welcome change from the usual cafeteria food and readied diners’ palates for a performance by Mexican-American singer Juanita Newland-Ulloa and the Ecuadorian band Groups Atahualpamanta.
The event marked the end of the Latino/Chicano/Latin American heritage month, which the International House celebrates each September. The month celebrates the achievements of the Latino community and their contribution to American culture, said Maribel Guillermo, program coordinator at the house.
Newland-Ulloa’s performance included stylized versions of several mariachi and bolero songs, like “Paloma Blanca” and “Perdicion,” arranged for piano and violin. She interspersed her songs with brief commentaries on her life and the difficulty of being a woman in the macho world of Latin American music.
“When I started in music, a lot of Latin groups were made of men, and they were not interested in having women,” she said. “Latin American women have been composing all through the century, and people don’t know who they are. They describe emotional intimacy beautifully in song.”
Music was not her only concern. Newland-Ulloa also spoke about bilingualism, saying California’s elementary schools need a more diverse approach to education, then sang “Mariposa,” a lullaby in English and Spanish.
New Jersey-born Newland-Ulloa earned her master’s degree in music at UC Berkeley, and her bachelor’s at Yale. She was born into an upper-class family with roots in Mexico City, and later lived in Mexico, Panama and Spain. She is the lead singer of the Picante ensemble and was accompanied Thursday night by Kit Eakle on violin.
Grupo Atamalpahuanta, from Ecuador, took over from Newland-Ulloa. The group includes four men from the small Indian village of Otavalo, in the Ecuadorian Andes. They came to the United States courtesy of Earth Mandala and the Consulate of Ecuador in San Francisco.
“We come here to play the music taught to us by our ancestors,” said group member Humberto Muenala.
That included a traditional Ecuadorian song, “Feliz he de sentirme,” as well as the Bolivian ballad, “El Taquirari.” Atamalpahuanta also played classic South American songs accompanied by a mix of pre-Columbian and Spanish instruments using instruments like the “cicus,” “quenas,” “zanjas” and “rondados.”
The event was the first of a series of heritage banquets at the International House this year. The next celebration is slated for October 21, when the community will celebrate the Indian tradition of Divali. A Native American banquet is November 16 and a Chinese New Year party January 24. Also under consideration include the Mexican Day of the Dead, the Persian New Year, a Passover Seder and a Christmas posada.