Binghamton University’s Latin American Student Union (LASU) launched its Latin Heritage Month kick-off on Friday at Old Union Hall.

LASU set this year’s theme as Nuestra Tierra, intended to highlight environmental issues in Latin America, as well as the beauty of its land. For the celebration, LASU invited several different Latin cultural organizations, Quimbamba — a Latin dance team — and an esteemed guest speaker. LASU also opened a gallery filled with photographs — taken from each Latin American country by the organization’s Executive Board and general body members — which spotlighted each country’s nature and culture, raising awareness for environmental protections. The Caribbean Student Association, Dominican Student Association, Pretty Girls Sweat and many other student organizations were present to table and support the Latin Heritage Month celebration.

The kick-off began with opening remarks from Kayleigh McGeeney, LASU’s vice president and a senior majoring in mathematics, who emphasized the importance of Latin Heritage Month to the Latin-American community at the University and the larger community.

“[Sept. 15] is not only the first day of Latin Heritage Month but also the independence day for Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala,” McGeeney said. “Latin-Americans are a growing demographic in the [United States] and consist a large part here at BU. Latin Heritage Month is when you celebrate and embrace who you are and where you are from.”

This speech was followed by a performance from the Quimbamba dance team, the only Latin dance team on campus, which showcased three culturally significant dances — merengue, bachata and Brazilian funk. Melissa Jael, Quimbamba’s vice president and a junior majoring in biology, explained the cultural meaning of the dances.

“The dances come from different [Latin-American] countries,” Jael said. “Merengue and bachata come from the Dominican Republic, and Brazilian funk comes from Brazil. We tried to showcase more eye-catching dances today.”

After the performance, Joseph Wilkanowski, the event’s guest speaker, delivered his speech “The Road to Sustainable Activism,” which emphasized the importance of advocacy and environmental protections to save the livelihoods of people living in Latin America. Wilkanowski, an environmental activist, is the co-founder of the Re-Earth Initiative.

“We are all activists,” Wilkanowski said. “We each know there are issues in the world and want to solve them. I want us to understand that with mobilization and collective action, we can be [the] leaders of today and tomorrow and solve issues in our communities, which we all want to protect and preserve. Change does not only come from protests and demonstrations. Change comes from our daily actions.”

Wilkanowski added how students can make a global impact. He said that activism should be “based on information, knowledge and skills” and that it begins with creating vision statements and sustainable plans at the organization level.

Michael Farmer, a freshman majoring in history, described why he came to the celebration. He said that he was “amazed” by the speaker.

“My history professor told me about the event, and I was interested to learn about Latin Heritage Month and the Re-Earth Initiative,” Farmer said. “The dance performance was impressive, and I was inspired by [Wilkanowski], who said to be an activist today and not wait until tomorrow.”

Sheyla Florentino, the president of Quimbamba and a junior majoring in business administration, shared her enthusiasm in preparing for the team’s performance.

“Preparing for the performance, we tried not to be so stressed about the practice, but just tried to express our cultural talent and have fun,” Florentino said.

LASU has been working to promote Latin-American culture and representation on campus since 1969. The organization plans to host its annual banquet on Nov. 4 this year.