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Brandon Thomas says Latin America Club is an opportunity to experience different kinds of dance

Members of the Latin America Club hold up a Brazil flag

The Latin America Club represents many nations from the Western Hemisphere, celebrating their unique cultures. The club celebrates best with all kinds of dancing. These activities liven and loosen up the lives of students, according to the club presidency, and even the lives of the Kahuku elderly.

Brandon Thomas, a marine biology sophomore from Nevada, is the president of the BYU–Hawaii Latin America Club. Since Latin America consists of countries from North and South America, Thomas explained the club holds country spotlights. “A country spotlight,” according to Thomas, “is where we talk about a certain country from Latin America and enjoy food from there or something.”

The club also collaborates events with other clubs. A weekend conference was held with Indonesia Club and Afro Club where they had a soccer game, a dance and a gospel forum. “There are not a lot of Latin Americans at this school,” Thomas remarked, “So they have to learn to embrace many other cultures instead of staying in their culture.”

It is difficult finding a balance between all the cultures within Latin America, said Thomas. “A lot of people sum it up to just one culture when, in reality, one country can be a lot different than another.” The club wants the different countries “to feel that sense of belonging and realize they are part of a bigger picture.”

Thomas said people wrongfully title the shining example of Latin culture solely to Mexico. “As much as I love Mexico, there is a lot more to Latin America.” He said cuisine could also be a topic of confusion when it comes to Latin America.

“A lot of people get the food mixed up.” When Thomas was serving in Colombia, his grandmother asked him if they ate a lot of tacos there. He told her they don’t eat a lot of tacos, but “rice and plantains.”

Thomas invited students to come and have fun. “[The] thing about Latin America: We embrace pure fun, enjoying life and yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Latin America is known for dancing, and we want everyone to loosen up a little.”

Roche Donato, a Latin America Club member and exercise and sports science senior from Qatar, said, “You can express yourself through dancing. Even if you don’t dance in the same way as others, just express yourself, go with the beat, and you’re good to go.”

Dancing and service

Kimo Burgess, a political science junior from Aiea, Hawaii, remembered the country spotlight event about Honduras. “The event was about Honduras and its beauty. I believe they were talking about the geography, places to visit and the history of Honduras.”

What Burgess remembered more was the club’s opening activity in the Spring of 2019. “When I entered into the Aloha Center Ballroom, I saw most of the Latin American countries [flags] represented on the wall.” He also noticed the Latin music playing and one of his friends told him to dance and meet new people.

Burgess regretted not going to the Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) event. “The [holiday] is a day to remember and honor those who have passed away, such as family members and one’s friends.”

Donato loved the dancing most of all. “Even though I don’t understand 50 percent of the music, I enjoy the beat and how happy the people are while dancing.”

Donato remembered a club event in his first semester where they went to the Kahuku elderly Hauoli Hale, an affordable housing community for older persons and those with disabilities. He said, “We danced with and helped them feel young again. We ate with them. We sang with them. Everything in Spanish. One of the ladies said when she was our age, she used to go to dances, and that’s how she met her husband.”

Learning from the Latin America Club

Thomas did not start the Latin America Club, but he said he has kept it moving forward. “I took it over from Kevin Martins in 2019 during the Winter Semester.” Thomas was handpicked by Martins, who is now graduated, but Thomas was apprehensive at first since he is “not even 100 percent Latino,” and his “parents don’t come from Latin America. They’re both from Southern California.” Nevertheless, Thomas told Martins he would accept and the Latin America Club was able to live on when Martins graduated.

Martins, who is from Utah and Brazil, reminisced about his time as the club president before Thomas. “I always had a crush on working a club but never got around to it. At the time, the club was lacking an officer, so I saw it as a great opportunity.”

His time as a club president helped him after graduation. “My experiences and mistakes taught me priceless lessons about leadership. I’m glad I learned them at BYUH because it would be a disaster to learn them in the workforce.”

Latin America Club is an opportunity for students to reconnect to their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thomas joined the club for this reason. Others join the club because they are interested in the culture or practicing their Spanish, like Donato and Burgess.

Brazil as a Latin American country

If students enjoy or are interested in Brazil, even though its official language is not Spanish, the Latin America Club is still open for them. Thomas said, “They still have those roots in the Latin language. It’s kind of like how Mexicans are also North Americans. It matters who you ask. Some say no, and some say yes.”

Martins said, “Of course, Brazil is Latin America. They speak Portuguese, a Latin-based language.”