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La Casa community celebrates Parranda


By Matt Bloom

An instrumentalist played Cuban, Caribbean and South American music as students and faculty filled paper plates with traditional Latin-American cuisine at the annual Parranda Navideña.

Almost 200 members of IU’s Hispanic and Latino community gathered in the Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center’s Grand Hall Saturday afternoon to celebrate the cultural tradition.

For the Parranda, families sing and play holiday songs while traveling through neighborhoods, similar to Christmas caroling in the United States.

“Think of it as a traveling party,” said Luis Rohwer, Maurer School of Law professor and IU Latino Faculty and Staff Council board member.

But the Parranda Navideña is a dying tradition within the Hispanic and Latino culture in the U.S., Rohwer said.

“It’s a way to connect with your roots and tradition — people you don’t get to see as much when you’re in the U.S.,” Rohwer said. “We get together and share stories like we’re back home, but when we look outside it’s very clear we aren’t home.”

During Rohwer’s childhood in Puerto Rico, he said his extended family would travel through neighborhoods while singing.

Strangers would open their doors, and the group would go inside and start a party in their house.

The IU Latino Faculty and Staff Council, with assistance from the Latino Cultural Center and the Latino Graduate Student Association, organized this year’s Parranda in efforts to share traditions from various Hispanic and Latino countries and discuss issues within IU’s Hispanic and Latino community.  

“Every year we’ve gotten bigger,” Rohwer said. “More people come — it’s exactly what we want.”

First-year master’s student Heydi Correa socialized with friends and professors while dozens of children danced to the potpourri of live music.

Graduate student Roberto Hoyle’s young daughter held his hands and jumped on his toes while waiting in line for their meals.

The Parranda remained in the Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center instead of traveling door to door, but it was made open to the public.

“This community has been everything for me,” Correa said. “My entire IU experience wouldn’t have been as enriching if it weren’t for La Casa and events like the Parranda.”

Correa completed her undergraduate degree at IU last semester and has been involved with La Casa since her freshman year. She said she remembers her uncles and cousins performing at her grandma’s house then traveling down the street and singing to everyone in her hometown.

Lillian Casillas, director of La Casa, along with students and graduate assistants, helped set up a buffet and advertised the event to as many students as possible through emails.

They also collected gift cards and cash donations for Latino families in the Bloomington community.

Luis Hernandez, research associate for the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and member of the IU Latino Faculty and Staff Council, said the Parranda will ultimately help his commission report the needs and issues facing the Hispanic and Latino community to administrators.

“Bloomington is very diverse. It has been extremely difficult to bring the people in our community together,” he said. “The Parranda is one of the few opportunities where we can bring everyone together and address our needs as a community and what we need to work at in the coming year.”

Rohwer said he feels students need to realize there is a bigger world out there that can be much different from their own.

“Diversity has become a word that means everything and nothing,” he said. “To me it means there exists lots of different world views, and events like the Parranda are tiny ways that students can partake in their and others’ culture.”

Follow reporter Matt Bloom on Twitter @matthew_bloom.

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