College group organizes Las Posadas celebration, seeks other opportunities to support Latinos and engage the wider community

By Kristi Anderson
For The Visitor

posadas1

College of St. Benedict sophomore Jocelyn Alcala, center, leads a group of students and staff in song as they celebrate Las Posadas Dec. 9. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

Jocelyn Alcala loves to celebrate her Mexican heritage. Though she was born in Utah, her parents were born in Mexico and she grew up observing Hispanic traditions. Many of them, like Las Posadas, a reenactment of the Holy Family’s search for shelter, take place around religious holidays.

Alcala is a sophomore at the College of St. Benedict and a student worker on the Faith Community Team in campus ministry under the direction of Benedictine Sister Sharon Nohner. She also serves as the religion coordinator for the student-based group, Exploring Latin American Culture.

“When I came to Minnesota, I was looking for other people who shared my culture and my language,” Alcala said. “And my faith has always been very important to me ever since I was a little girl. So it was natural for me to get involved with both the cultural and religious aspects of my heritage on campus.”

Seeking lodging

posadas2

College of St. Benedict sophomore Blanca Dominguez and Cristian Garcia from St. John’s University let their voices be heard as they follow along with a procession through Mary Commons on the CSB campus. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

Traditionally, Las Posadas processions are celebrated for the nine days prior to Christmas Eve in Mexico and Latin American countries. However, because classes were ending at the college and students were preparing to head home for the break, Alcala planned a mini version of this customary event for Dec. 9.

About 30 people gathered for the posada which began with participants praying the rosary in Spanish. As is tradition, the youngest participant was identified to carry a Nativity scene. Others were invited to hold lit candles while processing through the hallways of Mary Commons, ending at a large meeting room. Half of the attendees entered the room while the other half remained outside.

“In the name of heaven I beg you for lodging (En el nombre del cielo os pido posada),” the Spanish song began as the outer group knocked on the door of the room.

“This is not an inn so keep going (Aquí no es mesón, signan adelante),” the inside group responded in song.

The groups continued taking turns singing the traditional words asking for posada, or lodging, in the same manner that Mary and Joseph looked for a place to rest on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

At the end of the exchange, the outside group was finally allowed to enter and the mood turned from solemn to festive. Carols were sung and were followed by refreshments including a warm, creamy, corn-based beverage called atole. Guests left with individual bags of treats.

“Jocelyn is very active in engaging the Hispanic/Latino community here at the college,” Sister Sharon said. “In fact, it was her idea to further explore the religious traditions and bring to light the importance of celebrating them as a community.”

It’s a community that’s growing quickly, Alcala said, adding that “it is crucial for us to take the lead in exploring the Latin American culture both with the native people and with the greater community.”

posadas3

Candles light a display of the Magi during the event. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

The ELAC group hosts many events, often in conjunction with campus ministry, including discussion groups on topics such as immigration and what it is like being a first- or second-generation Hispanic/Latino student, panels on cultural and religious icons like Our Lady of Guadalupe and social events including Las Posadas and Quinceañera, which is held in the spring.

“Through these opportunities, we can get a deeper understanding of our culture and share our traditions with others,” Alcala explained. “We also see a great response from many of the students who have traveled abroad. When they come back, they want to stay connected to their experience and improve their Spanish. We see a lot of non-native students attending the Spanish Masses and events.”

One of those non-natives is Jake Collins, a junior at St. John’s University. At the Las Posadas event, he led a decade of the rosary in Spanish, which he mastered after spending last summer in Mexico teaching English and praying daily with a group of religious sisters.

“In Mexico, I just fell in love with the culture and the different customs,” Collins said. “I have been taking Spanish classes since I was a freshman in high school so it was good to put what I had learned into practice. It is one thing to sit in a classroom and study the language but it is a completely different experience to be immersed in the culture and language. I learned more last summer than in all my years of classes.”

Collins, who is traveling to Spain for the spring semester, plans to become more involved with ELAC when he returns next year.

Alcala, who is an elementary education major, hopes to leave her footprint on campus by establishing a stable Hispanic ministry there.

“With the increase of Latinos coming to Minnesota, I would like to see the number of Spanish Mass offerings increase,” she said. “It is really important and good for them to find a place to worship in their native tongue. And these events and Masses are not just for students. We welcome anyone to join our events.”