The Latin American Student Association (LASO), Mexican American Student Association (MASA) and the Alpha Zeta chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta joined forces to raise funds for victims of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in an event called “El Apagon.”
“El Apagon,” or “the blackout” in English, is in reference to a Bad Bunny song that explains the constant struggles Puerto Ricans live as recurring power outages and political corruption disrupt daily life. What makes the song important is that even though it’s hard to go through the day with this turmoil, Puerto Ricans always have a positive mindset.
Brikeissy Mancebo, the treasurer of LASO, felt the need to do something to help her native land, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of the hurricane.
“The idea originated from the whole situation in Puerto Rico and their social-political issues,” Mancebo said. “Then [Hurricane] Fiona happened and I was like ‘let’s do something where we speak on the issues happening in Puerto Rico and also incorporate the Dominican Republic because they were the two Latino islands who were most impacted by it.'”
Stephanie De Dios, the president of LASO, sympathized with Mancebo and decided to organize the event.
“After the hurricane happened, [Mancebo] was really distraught,” De Dios said. “Around the same time, Mexico also had a small earthquake. So, I knew we had the same feeling of ‘what can I do for our countries.’ We are a Latin student association and we are representatives of the Latinos on campus and I really wanted to have a voice for those people.”
The event was held in the Student Center Ballrooms at Montclair State University. Hector Lora, the mayor of Passaic, was invited to the event and talked about the importance of Latino communities in Passaic and other New Jersey cities.
“There are almost 70 million Hispanics and Latinos in the country and two million in New Jersey,” Lora said. “We have so many opportunities to impact every aspect of society and complement our brothers and sisters of different communities and rise up together.”
The mayor donated $1,000 for the relief efforts. Every cent donated will go directly to non-profit organizations, Brigada Solidaria del Oeste (Solidarity Brigade of the West in English) in Puerto Rico and Jompeame (Jump Start Me in English) in the Dominican Republic.
Mancebo spoke about Puerto Rico’s current social-political relationship with the United States and how issues like Act 22, gentrification and the privatization of beaches affect Puerto Ricans.
“El Apagon” also saw the debut of the LASO Dance Troupe, where they made a tribute to music originating from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
At the end of the event, everybody got a flashlight and the room went dark to showcase what Puerto Ricans and Dominicans have to live with when there is a blackout.
The attendees were happy with the blackout, especially one Puerto Rican who was emotionally invested in the activity. Alexis Cruz, a junior dance major, spoke about what the event meant to him.
“‘El Apagon’ was more than just a party,” Cruz said. “Its purpose was to educate and they did a really good job at doing it. I appreciate how they shared what we, Boricuas and our Dominican brothers are going through and helping with donations. It was a very special night full of fun and community.”
Minyae McKenzie, a sophomore social media and public relations major who is not Latina but African American and Jamaican, identified with the event.
“I thought it was amazing,” McKenzie said. “Really bringing everyone together to not only dance and have fun, but talk about very real and current problems in the Latino community whether it be [economically] or socially. Inspiring people who live away from their homeland to still lend a helping hand and band together in times of need. The guest speaker [Lora] was amazing and I felt more educated at the end.”
De Dios was happy with how the event unfolded and hopes to make more activities like this.
“I think the event was a success,” De Dios said. “We had a great turn out and we gathered over a thousand dollars in donations and that’s a big success.”
Mancebo was satisfied with her work and is proud of the new perception people have about these Caribbean islands.
“[There] were a handful of people here and some of them didn’t know what was going on and they were informed,” Mancebo said. “We made a decent amount of funds, even more in the Dominican Republic since the currency alters when you change dollars to pesos.”
For more information about how you can help and donate to Dominican and Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Fiona, you can go to the official LASO Instagram page.