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From dance to research, celebrating the wide range of Hispanic culture

Olivia Maule (right), 20, stands by her butterfly research exhibition at Viva Museum. (Isabella Mascioli/WUFT News)
Olivia Maule (right), 20, stands by her butterfly research exhibition at Viva Museum. (Isabella Mascioli/WUFT News)

From dancing to researching butterflies, scientists and artists displayed the wide influence of Latinx culture to mark Hispanic Heritage Month at the 11th annual Viva Museum, hosted by the Florida Museum and Gainesville Latino Film Festival. 

The Viva Museum event has been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month since 2012 after the museum concluded it was a perfect way to bring a community together.

“It is very empowering,” said employee Alberto Lopez. Events like these also offer a further chance to examine the massive impact Latinas and Latinos have had on American culture.

The UF salsa club also made an appearance. Xenothon Stelnicki, 46, the head instructor of casino dancing and someone who has been involved with the salsa club at UF, expressed his excitement in their participation. 

“It’s been a pretty great turnout we’ve had some great participation in here and everyone seems to be having a jolly time,” Stelnicki stated.

Janelle Pena, the public programs coordinator at Viva Museum, said the main goal for the event is to show children, specifically those from the Latinx community, how they can achieve anything they want.

“We want kids to see that there are people working with butterflies, amphibians, and birds and that this is not something that is far away from reality, and it is something that they can achieve. It also emphasizes the importance of science and learning while having fun,” Pena said.

Aside from dance and ethnic food, scientists are also showcasing their animal research done in different parts of Latin America. Alberto Lopez, the youth outreach coordinator at the Viva Museum, explained the stretch of Latin diversity at this event.

“We have scientists here from South America, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and many other places in the Latin American region,” Lopez explained.

University of Florida student Olivia Maule, 20, a biology major from Miami, showcased her work, specializing in butterfly research at the museum with the McGuire Center. 

“I am looking at how the current rise of the Andes has resulted in the split of a lot of butterfly species so what I brought to the table today was a lot of butterfly species that I was able to see in Ecuador this summer,” Maule said. 

Maule emphasized that it is always great having a younger audience ask questions because she finds it very enjoyable being able to share her knowledge with future scientists.

“It’s really nice to get a lot of questions, especially from kids who are naturally very curious, and I really enjoy hearing them ask questions about butterflies or things I have done.”

According to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 60 million Latinos living in the United States. It's the largest ethnic minority group making up almost 20% of the entire population. In Alachua County, Hispanics make up 10% of the population, and nearly 14% in Marion. 

Regardless of the profession on display, the colors, stories, food and energy behind Hispanic Heritage Month feels like reason enough to celebrate.

Isabella is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.