Outside of the Greater Boston area or gateways cities, such as Springfield or Pittsfield, few may expect to find large numbers of black people in Massachusetts. It’s surprising, then, to hear that Florence, Mass., a village tucked in the northwest corner of the city of Northampton, had 10 percent black residents in 1850, higher than major hubs like New Bedford and Boston.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, in light of Black History Month and in partnership with the David Ruggles Center for History and Education, the Malcolm X Cultural Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted a two-part event on the impact of slavery in the Pioneer Valley.
Ruggles Center director Steve Scrimer was invited to speak at the MXCC, presenting the history of African Americans that arrived to Florence in the middle 19th century via the Underground Railroad, and quickly made the mill town their home and site of radical organizing.
The Indian Classical Arts Society at the University of Massachusetts Amherst performed “Sita Haran” at Bezanson Hall on Saturday, Feb. 23. The show was about retelling an epic story from the ancient Hindu text, Ramayana, about the abduction of Sita by the king of Lanka, Ravana.
The show was a compilation of acts performed in various Indian dance forms—Kathak, Odissi and Bharatanatyam—and music forms that were adapted from different parts of North and South India. The dancers were accompanied by live musicians from UMass Amherst and the Greater Boston area.
Ilina Shah, president of the Indian Classical Arts Society, said, “Sita Haran was a perfect story for this show because it was a short enough excerpt from the Hindu epic Ramayana which has been interpreted by dancers from many Indian classical dance and music forms. Each dancer and musician could develop their own unique take on the character they were playing.”
All of the artists have been trained in their music and dance styles for over five years. The acts that were performed through the evening were self-choreographed and took inspiration from set compositions that have been established in these varied dance forms. The use of live music and different facial expressions helped bring out the story and showed the creativity the artists used to execute the story. Sita Haran represented the diversity and relevance of mythology this is prevalent in Indian society.
On Wednesday Feb. 20, five Latinx students sat at a table in the Latinx American Cultural Center admiring how fast El Alfa rapped in Spanish in his music video “Mi Mami” at the first ¿Cómo se Dice? How Do You Say it? event of the semester.
“I want to speak Spanish like him,” Yanni Cabrera, English major, said as she and the four other attendees watched the video.
Held every spring semester, ¿Cómo se Dice? How Do You Say it? is a biweekly event hosted by the LACC to give a space for Latinx students and all people to come speak in Spanish. No matter what skill level of Spanish you are at, the doors are open for you.
On Friday, Feb. 22, the Black Student Union and the University of Massachusetts Amherst chapter of the NAACP gave students of color a space to celebrate Black art. The event, “Celebration of Black Art” was held in the New Africa House Theatre from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“It’s a chance to have people celebrate themselves,” said Marquise Laforest, president of BSU.
At this event, students of color had the opportunity to share their art — whether through poetry, rap lyrics, or singing.
Juana Valdes, printmaking professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, acknowledges that students and faculty of color deserve a platform and a community that makes them comfortable and creates a space where students can get together to share ideas and beliefs.
“Often times, there is not enough importance put to these situations and these issues are not addressed as quickly as they need to be addressed,” Valdes said.
Valdes recalls gravitating towards making art as a junior in high school, when she was put in various creative classes. She now sees it as an opportunity to express her perception of the world.
“As a woman, as a woman of color and as an immigrant, I feel that I’m at an intersection of a lot of discriminations and push-backs of my ideas and beliefs, so I have decided to use my work as a vehicle to communicate what it’s likes to be in my position.”