As part of Hispanic Serving Institute Week, several Texas Tech departments collaborated to host a free screening of “In the Heights,” preceded by a conversation with Julio Ricardo Varela at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 at Cinemark Movies 16 and XD.

Itzel Campuzano, a third-year biochemistry student from Desoto, said she heard about the event through the Honors College. She had already heard Varela speak at Tech earlier in the day about Latinx representation in media.

“I think, like, you know, this in general, the whole issue with representation in media tends to be based a lot on stereotypes, as well as like, they may be trying to represent a community, but they’re also excluding people within that community,” Campuzano said.

Julio Ricardo Varela is the vice president of new business development for Futuro Studios, editorial director for Futuro Media, founder of Latino Rebels and co-host of the “In the Thick” podcast. Kent Wilkinson and Gabriel Dominguez Partida of the Harris Institute for Hispanic and International Communication served as moderators for the conversation.

Varela began by acknowledging some of the controversy surrounding “In the Heights” regarding its lack of representation of Afro-Latinx people. Varela said it is crucial to think critically about representation in media and look at who decides who and what gets represented.

“Here we are, you're about to see a movie in, you know, on the east coast in a New York neighborhood, and we're in West Texas, and I'm always wondering like, 'Hmm, I mean, is this movie geared for you guys, or was it for me?'” Varela said.

Varela was born in Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican father and an Italian mother from the Bronx. After his parents divorced, he moved to New York with his mother, but grew up speaking both English and Spanish.

Growing up in the U.S. with other young Latinx friends, Varela said he knew the struggle of feeling too American for his home country, but too foreign for the U.S.. Even with Latin media like Telemundo and movies like Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” Varela said Latinx representation was never consistent or complete.

“So instead of saying, 'I want someone else to do this for me,' because of technology, I'm like, 'I'm gonna do this, and I'm just gonna start telling the stories that I want to tell,'” Varela said.

After his opening remarks, the floor was open for attendees to ask questions. Topics of discussion included how the Spanish language is tied to Hispanic identity, stereotypes in media, intersectionality and more.

Aliyah Efotte, a third-year honors sciences and humanities student from Cyprus, is also an at-large senator for the Student Government Association. Efotte said as a liaison between the student body and the administration, it is necessary for her to become involved in educational events like these.

“And, I don't know, I've never seen ‘In the Heights,’ so I just wanted to hear more about Latinx culture, and like, it's kind of something that I've never really heard anything about, especially from the perspective of a Latinx professional like we're about to hear,” Efotte said.

Rithika Nayar, a first-year biochemistry student from Allen, said she has seen the “In the Heights” film before and is a fan of the original musical. As an activist for neurodivergent, disabled and Asian-American rights, she said these kinds of discussions are interesting for her.

“I feel like this film is really important to show because it highlights the effect that a lot of gentrification has on Black and brown communities, you know, the movie centers around someone who's trying to make it and, you know, make enough money so that he can head back to his home country, and that is something I relate to as an immigrant,” Nayar said.

After a 15-minute break following the question-and-answer portion of the night, the movie screening began. While this event concluded Hispanic Serving Institute Week at Tech, National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month will continue until Oct. 15.

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