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Expanding the Fiesta


Article Written by Hannah Vandegrift


A series of events this week celebrated Roanoke College’s history of welcoming students of many cultures and nationalities called “Expanding the Fiesta.”

This year marks the 175th year of Roanoke College’s founding, and also 147 years since Roanoke opened its doors to indigenous and international students.

Roanoke celebrated this heritage with a series of events this past week, called Expanding the Fiesta. The events were organized by Roanoke College Professor Dolores Flores-Silva and Keith Cartwright, who is a visiting professor at the University of North Florida.

The celebration had other campus sponsors, including the English, Modern Languages, and History departments, as well as the Of ce of Multi-cultural Affairs, Fintel Library, and HOLA.

Flores-Silva and Cart- wright said they wanted the event to be a celebration of Roanoke’s heritage as an internationally welcoming school.

“We wanted to honor the bridges Roanoke has built, and keep building those bridges in a time with talk of walls,” said Cartwright, referring to the wall separating Mexico and the United States that President Donald Trump has proposed to build.

The late 1800s into the early 1900s was an important time for Roanoke College. It had become a pioneer of diver- sity, as it enrolled 35 students from the Native American

Choctaw Nation, as well as students from Japan, Korea, and Mexico. Roanoke’s diver- sity was among the highest in the South, giving the college a cosmopolitan reputation in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The college’s president at the time, Julius Dreher, emphasized in- ternational education and took great pride in his recruitment of Native American students and his dedication to education for all.

In 1903, according to the Roanoke College archives, the Collegian, Roanoke College’s newspaper, made the statement, “Roanoke College has had more foreign students than any other college in the South.”

Expanding the Fiesta welcomed renowned poets Leanne Howe and Feliciano Sánchez Chan. Howe, a pro- fessor of English at the Uni- versity of George and member of Choctaw Nation, read from her work on Monday, and Chan read from his work on Tuesday. He read in several languages, including Mayan, Spanish, Yucatec, and English.

There were several other events throughout the week, including a play by Chan on Wednesday and a tribute walk to the East Cemetery gravesite of William Willis, a Choctaw student who passed away while studying at Roanoke College.

On Monday night, Flores-Silva and Cartwright said that they hope these events expand students’ knowledge of the college’s heritage and en- courage enthusiasm for global perspectives. They hope to make this an annual occurance for the college that will take place during this time in the semester.