Anyone who walked through the doors of the city of Santa Clarita’s Activities Center on Wednesday was welcomed by the vibrant performance of the traditional Mexican dance of ballet folklórico during the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce Hispanic Heritage Celebration.
During National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the chamber, along with the chamber’s Latino Business Alliance, commemorates the month with this annual event. The networking reception boasted many Latinx and Hispanic Santa Clarita business owners, along with many local sponsors.
“We [hold] this celebration to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — we do it as an annual event,” said Ivan Volschenk, president and CEO of the chamber. “The Latino Business Alliance is a council within the Chamber of Commerce. So, we celebrate them during this month [as a] joint effort.”
Although this is an annual event, the chamber did something differently this year.
“This year we’re actually giving a scholarship away. We put applications out to all the [high school] seniors and we received about 25 to 30 submissions, went through all of them, and that person is going to be honored tonight with a $1,500 scholarship,” Volschenk said. “We’re doing that and then we give two awards: Business of the Year and Community Leaders of the Year.”
Canyon High School student Andrea Alas won the scholarship; the recipients of the awards were Julio Lemos Insurance Services, and Willy Arroyo and Ingrid Blanco, respectively.
Volschenk took pride in the coming together of local business leaders.
“It’s a celebration of the community and how diverse our business community is. The chamber is the unifying factor and everything falls under that — everyone’s welcome to everything within the chamber,” Volschenk said.
The LBA, one of the chamber’s councils, “works to promote Latinx-owned businesses as well as enhance a company’s efforts with Latinx customers and businesses,” according to its description on the chamber’s website.
Patsy Ayala, the LBA chair, said the celebration positively affects her community.
“I’m welcoming everybody to celebrate with us Hispanic Heritage Month because this is a celebration to [honor] the contributions of the Hispanic and Latino community in Santa Clarita,” Ayala said. “Even though the month is nationwide [and recognized] by the president, we do it locally here with the [chamber].”
Ayala discussed the importance of sharing food and culture, not just during Wednesday’s celebration, but for near-future networking events.
“We are sharing culture and food, warm attitude, to create bridges between the community and the Hispanic community. Who doesn’t like tacos and tamales?” Ayala said. “I want to let the community know that we have our Café con Leche [events] for everybody. They are networking opportunities for businesses — the next one is going to be at The Cube on Nov. 7.”
While many business owners gathered, Golden Valley High School students entertained attendees with their ballet folklórico. Director Juanita Rojas, who has been a teacher for nearly 30 years, discussed the process of helping curate the first ballet folklórico class in the William S. Hart Union High School District.
“This is the first class that has been offered to get credits for either PE or an elective in the history of the William S. Hart School District. We started last year as a club. I have a few girls in here that have been dancing since they were [very young] and came in and asked me if I would be their advisor for the club,” Rojas said.
At first, the club entailed nine students who danced within the school. Making it a goal to create a class to earn credit, Rojas “pushed for it and got it approved.” Now the class has more than doubled.
“Now we have a class of 23 students, and it’s really amazing. At first I thought that only the students from that culture would join, but it’s diverse,” Rojas said. “I have Black students, Asian Pacific Islander students, white students and different parts of Latin America that are a part of this. [Even] a male student.”
While the class began nearly a month ago, Rojas has goals for region-based Mexican dresses depending on the style of dance, as well as recruiting more male students.
“One of my successes that I’ve always known as being a teacher is making sure that the students have a sense of belonging to their school. One of my goals for this class is to connect them not only with their school, but also with the community,” Rojas said. “This is actually their first community event. They’re going to perform at Principal for a Day on Oct. 20. Fair Oaks Elementary is also having their Hispanic Heritage assembly, and [the students] are going to perform for 600 students.”