El Toque Latino: Student Reflections

On Thursday, September 28, Emerson community members gathered for El Toque Latino, a documentary screening and talkback with Edgar Arroyo Castro, the Dean of the School of Architecture and Art at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Medellín. The event explored anti-racist consciousness and dignity among Latinx communities in Medellín and the Caribbean Coast from the 1970s to today through Afro-Colombian salsa music, radio shows, and dance clubs. The following are reflections from three students who attended as part of Professor Tamera Marko’s bilingual section of the First Year Writing Program.


Manal Murangi

In this presentation, I was able to learn a lot more about salsa culture and what it means to the people of Colombia, and really all of those who have salsa as an important part of their culture. I was surprisingly able to recognize some of salsa’s importance in my own culture. When I heard the Afro-Colombian music, I was reminded of music from Namibia, and the importance of music and culture to my father, who was born and raised in Namibia.

Afro-Colombian music is a blend of African and Latin American cultures, and it holds cultural importance to both. By identifying with the music, people are able to relate to a culture that isn’t necessarily theirs. The music brings people together and forms connections between them. From what I understand of salsa music, it is used to express the hardships of the people. By blending African and Latin American music, the struggles are relatable to more people globally. To learn about Afro-Colombian music is to learn about cultures and struggles that happen across the world and to understand what other people are going through. It raises awareness through this medium that is so emotional and strong, so even people who may not experience the same hardships now have some understanding of others’ lives. Music is one of the most universal human connections. Learning about different types of music enables us to learn about different people and cultures.

Dominic Chambers-Salce

Poderoso (powerful) is the embodiment of Afro-Colombian music. That is why Dean Edgar Arroyo’s presentation meant so much to me. Learning about the culture and ways of Afro-Colombian music allowed me to experience a distant, beautiful lifestyle. This is why learning about Afro-Colombian music is so important. It allows you to feel and encounter different and compelling ways of life. It diversifies your knowledge and creates a deeper understanding of the way cultures thrive. For me, it created a deeper sense of who I am, allowing me to connect with my Latin heritage and manifesting a sense of home. It made me proud of who I am and created a sense of happiness. It made me feel poderoso.

Anzhen Tang

As a girl from Asia, I was not familiar with Afro-Colombian music, but the El Toque Latino presentation got me into this type of music. What I found interesting was that the subjects of Afro-Colombian music are usually very serious and deep, such as freedom and gender equality. However, instead of expressing the strong emotions through an indignant tone, the music exhibits the passion through a relaxing, lyrical, and rhythmic melody. It’s unlike music such as the songs from Les Miserables, which convey themes about race through the chorus spectacle of million voices in order to create the momentum. It seems like without this introduction, I would never have known about this amazing type of music, since it can be too easy for young people to be surrounded by pop or contemporary music and forget to explore something new. Afro-Colombian music is part of a particular culture, and getting to know this type of music gave me some access to Afro-Colombian culture and people. Their backgrounds lay a solid foundation for their music and their attitudes towards bias, inequalities, slavery, and most importantly, their lives. It seems that modernization has led to more and more songs that focus on love, heartbreak and daily life, so when I heard music on a subject like advocating for freedom, it felt fresh and unique. I personally find this music attractive, because I cannot stop listening to it once I get started, even though I don’t know all the meanings of the lyrics. That is the power of music. There are still so many aspects of Afro-Colombian music that I’m eager to understand. I just started this wonderful journey, and I won’t stop until one day I can say that Afro-Colombian music makes me feel home.