Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion: Rockabilly Festival honors its 17th edition at Pitzer College

May 1, 2024
3 mins read

Rozenn Le Roux ’26
Staff Writer

On April 6, Pitzer College hosted the Rockabilly Festival, a Latinx Chicanx event organized by the executive board of Pitzer College’s Latinx Student Union (LSU) to showcase local community members. This year marks the 17th annual Pitzer Festival, created in 2008 by students and faculty.

With representation from local Latino vendors, community organizations, live entertainment, and custom cars from The Claremont Colleges, the Inland Empire, and Los Angeles, the Rockabilly Festival celebrates and showcases southern California’s rich Latin culture. LSU stands with their goal to create a diverse and inclusive space to celebrate the many voices of the Latin American diaspora, including queer, trans, Black, and indigenous people. In addition, this event allows them to express solidarity and be in community with other underrepresented groups, providing a platform for local organizations fighting for liberation and equal opportunities.

With a packed schedule for the day, Pitzer College welcomed many activities and community members to the Commencement Plaza in the middle of campus. The free, open-to-all event kicked off at noon with over 30 vendors and continued until 7 p.m. with dinner. Many students were present under the blazing sun, with a bouncy house, a photo booth, and delicious food from different parts of Latin America. Among the vendors, students could buy recycled clothing, food, handmade jewelry, accessories, plants, candles and much more.

Originally a blend of rhythm and blues and country music, rockabilly emerged in southern California in the 1950s. Although it is considered predominantly white, Black and Latino artists such as Chuck Berry and Richie Valdez contributed early on. By the late 1990s, the southern California rockabilly scene had become an important part of Latino culture, with clubs like the famous Rudolph’s in Los Angeles promoting a Latino version of rockabilly style, including suede loafers and rayon jackets instead of the traditional “greaser” look. In addition, lowrider culture, embodying resistance and cultural pride, became central to Latino rockabilly identity, fostering community involvement and cultural expression.

Latinos have transformed the white-dominated rockabilly scene through physical venues like Rudolpho’s and online platforms, becoming part of Los Angeles’ cultural history. After COVID, events such as Pitzer College’s Latino Cultural Festival and Pitzer Latinx Student Union and Black Student Union’s Thrift Sale testify to a revival of Latino culture, fostering inter-community ties while celebrating heritage in diverse gatherings.

According to Adrianna Maciel PZ ’25, one of the organizers of the Rockabilly festival, the Latino cultural festival profoundly impacts the development of a sense of belonging and community cohesion.

“Last year was the first year we brought it back after COVID, and a lot of the community was like, ‘thank god you brought it back,’” Maciel ’25 said. “This was such a big event for the community, not only in Claremont and Montclair but also in Pomona and LA which means a lot of people come out here.”

After a hiatus due to the pandemic, the festival has seen an increase in participation, attracting attendees from outside the college student body. This broader engagement underlines the event’s role in promoting cultural understanding and inclusion.

“We’re hoping to build community through the vendors and mixing students and local people,” the LSU Board said in a joint interview. “We really wanted to make the space more diverse this year because a big issue within the Latino community is the centric space that Mexico holds, so we tried to incorporate Afro-Latino voices and Indigenous voices.” This year’s event focuses on Peruvian, Caribbean, and Salvadorian cuisine, in addition to the more well-known Mexican dishes such as tacos.

César Morales PZ ’27 emphasized the dual goals of cultural appreciation and small business support, stressing the event’s role in bringing people of diverse backgrounds together. “I think it’s wonderful for people to come and understand Latin culture,” Morales said as he sold thrift clothing at his booth with friends to give back to affinity groups on campus. “It brings people together on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We all come together in affinity groups to work together as friends and do something for the greater good.”

Organizing events that accurately represent and celebrate the diversity of Latino cultures poses unique challenges. LSU Board members emphasized the importance of intersectionality, ensuring that the festival reflects the multiple identities of the Latino community. The board spoke of navigating logistical hurdles, such as finding vendors and artists who match the inclusive spirit of the event. They also emphasized the need to create spaces highlighting Afro-Latino and indigenous contributions, which are often overlooked in broader cultural discussions.

Latino cultural festivals such as this one reinforce cultural diversity and inclusion. Through careful planning and a commitment to celebrating diversity, these events bridge the gaps between communities and foster a more interconnected society. Between performers, community organizations, vendors, the Rolling Hard Car Club, and catering, the Pitzer College Latinx Student Union Exec Board successfully highlighted the many voices of the Latin American diaspora.

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