The first Hispanic Cultural Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol filled the fourth floor rotunda Monday with the many songs and dances of people from Mexico and Latin America who make up a part of Oklahoma’s rich mix of cultures.
Not only did lawmakers get an opportunity to encounter Oklahoma’s Hispanic culture, but adults and students got to experience being in the Capitol building, a new experience for some.
“One student after another told me today that it was the first time they had ever been in the Capitol,” Oklahoma City Public Schools Board vice-chair Gloria Torres told the Board Monday night.
She said it was important for them to see that they belonged there.
Oklahoma City Police Captain Paco Balderrama is the Public Information Officer for the department, and grew up in south side Hispanic culture.
He spoke to the filled fourth floor rotunda, effortlessly switching between Spanish and English during his speech.
He talked to Free Press afterward about how important it was for the event to make Latinos feel more included.
“I think it makes the Hispanic community feel that they are included, a viable and contributing part of our community, which obviously they are, but sometimes some of the national rhetoric makes people feel disenfranchised,” said Balderrama.
“I think it’s important to be inclusive and not exclusive because it’s our government.”
Capitol Hill High School band director Tristianne Asbury had her hands full just getting her band up to the rotunda.
The Oklahoma City Public Schools director and her band students were ordered by Capitol security to put all of their instruments in their cases through a large security scanner in the basement of the building – including the biggest tubas.
They were invited because of the predominance of students from Hispanic culture in the school and band.
The security shakedown was another new experience for the director and her band, but taken in stride.
After seven years of directing the band program at the school, she has learned to handle just about any surprise.
On March 2 she and the band had a good kind of surprise when the OKCPS Foundation and representatives of Fowler Dodge and Mickey Mantle Steakhouse arrived with 15 new instruments to donate to the program.
Some of those instruments were the ones that were put through the scanner Monday.
The Capitol Hill band was not the only talent at the event that took up the entire fourth floor rotunda area and most of the hallways.
Students from local dance schools and professional dancers contributed with dances from several of the countries that are considered predominantly Hispanic.
Also, professional and student vocalists filled the rotunda with traditional songs from the many Hispanic culture countries.
The event was planned by several lawmakers.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, District 72 in north Tulsa had the idea.
He was then joined in the planning by Rep. Shane Stone, District 89, Rep. Forrest Bennett, District 92, Rep. Mickey Dollens, District 93 and Senator J.J. Dossett, District 34.
Each of those districts has large percentages of Hispanic constituents.
Then others leaders around the state, and many in Oklahoma City, began to work with them to pull off a successful first event.
n the end, they recruited over 30 table sponsors for the event, many of whom served different foods from the various Hispanic culture countries.
Several representatives and leaders from the community gave positive speeches encouraging those present to engage in the political process by voting and actively supporting candidates.
They were also encouraged to put pressure on current legislators to pass humane laws that give everyone a chance in life.
Mariachi Orgullo de América performed several numbers in the House chamber at the beginning of the afternoon session.
They closed with the state song, “Oklahoma.” A majority of those members of the house present stood and cheered as the song ended.
The band is popular in Oklahoma City and the state.
Its members, under the leadership of Robert Ruiz, have distinguished themselves as teachers and leaders of the various Mariachi music programs in OKCPS, both during the school year and during summer break.
The first Europeans to discover what later became the State of Oklahoma were Spanish explorers.
Later, the territory was a part of the large Spanish holdings in the West.
After the U.S. and Mexico agreed to the end their war in 1848, Mexico surrendered the territory to the United States.
But Hispanic culture continued to influence Oklahoma with Mexican vaqueros teaching the cattle handling skills that we associate with cowboys.
Hispanic culture was especially present in the newly-founded Oklahoma City before statehood and beyond.
Read more in the earlier Free Press story about Little Flower Catholic Church and listen to the interview of one of the current members of the Carmelite order that started the mission in 1927 in the companion Intersections podcast episode.
The Roman Catholic expression of Christianity has been a prominent one among Oklahoma City’s Latinos even though various Protestant and independent churches have gained significant numbers in recent years.
Nevertheless, Roman Catholicism is still strong in the Hispanic culture with Little Flower, Sacred Heart and St. James parishes all thriving.
In recent years commerce on the south side has focused on the growing Hispanic population.
A major corridor of commerce has grown along SW 29th Street.
Also, Plaza Mayor, formerly called Crossroads Mall at the intersection of I-35 and I-240, has focused on the needs of the burgeoning numbers that has expanded beyond just the south side all the way into Moore and beyond.