UMSL kicks off celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month

by | Sep 19, 2022

The Office of Student Involvement organized an interactive kickoff event last Thursday, featuring food and a demonstration of how to make mola art, in the MSC.
Woman holds up a piece of decorated fabric in front of a room full of students.

Colombian visual artist Luisa Otero Prada holds up a mola during her presentation on the art form at the kickoff event celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month last Thursday in the Millennium Student Center. (Photos by Wendy Todd)

The Office of Student Involvement at the University of Missouri–St. Louis kicked off its celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month last week with an interactive event that drew dozens of students to the Century Rooms at the Millennium Student Center.

Those in attendance dined on tacos from Pueblo Solis Mexican restaurant and also had the opportunity to learn how to make molas, traditional hand-made textiles that originated in Panama.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 through October 15 and is meant to recognize and celebrate the culture and traditions of Hispanic countries.

While students enjoyed Mexican food, Luisa Otero Prada, a Colombian visual artist, taught how to make molas while also playing a documentary film, “La Mujer Y La Mola” – translated “The Woman and the Mola,” that demonstrated the process.

Prada brought some of her mola artwork to display for the students.

The Kuna people, also referred to as Cuna or Guna, began the art form in the late 1800s. There are two types of molas, and one technique, mola appliqué, entails creating intricate designs on panels of fabric using a reverse appliqué technique. The other involves creating designs with layers of fabric. In the Guna dialect, mola means “clothes” and are often worn. The popularization of the tradition has created the practice of also hanging them as pieces of art.

Prada feels the mola is a significant reflection of the Hispanic culture.

“The mola is an authentic art, like quilting for example,” Prada said. “We can see today that it had been passed from generation to generation. The Guna women were great designers. Their expression of the culture is really amazing.”


Mola applique is one of the mola artforms.

Dakota Miller, LGBTQ+ and diversity coordinator in the Office of Student Involvement, organized the event, wanting to provide students with immersive ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I wanted it to be different than in years past,” he said. “According to our department, it’s been more about dancers, it’s been less interactive for students, and I think it’s important for students to have more engaging conversations and work with their hands in a culture that they’re not familiar with.”

Keeping in mind that the Hispanic culture is largely underrepresented in the region, Miller planned additional events for Hispanic Heritage Month in the hopes of educating participants.

“My goal,” he said, “is to provide resources for the people who identify as Hispanic for them to get opportunities to engage with the community, not so much socially but educationally for people to learn because not everyone has a great understanding of Hispanic culture.”

Iker Vazquez, a junior supply chain management major, enjoyed the event and appreciated the chance to learn about other cultures in the Hispanic diaspora.


Iker Vazquez (far right) and other students enjoy learning about the mola art.

“I’m from Mexico, so Hispanic Heritage Month means a lot to me and my family,” he said. “It’s also good to learn about other cultures, not just Mexico, you know? Colombian, Costa Rican, all kinds of cultures. My family and friends, we try to learn more about other cultures and watch movies by Hispanic or Latino directors and all of that. So when I heard that there was an event for Hispanic Heritage Month here at UMSL, I decided to check it out.”

The molas project appealed to Vazquez.

“I’ve seen these in Mexico and wanted to learn about more about them,” he said, “because I’ve always thought they were cool designs.”

Guadalupe Quiroz, a freshman majoring in biology who is also from Mexico, appreciated the event and celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Her experience being in predominantly white spaces has contributed to her desire to honor and explore her culture and its history.

“Growing up, I didn’t feel very connected with my culture, “she said. “I went to a school that was primarily white, and I always felt very separated from the rest of the class and only being taught about American history. I felt very forgotten. And I did experience a lot of racism just because those kids weren’t very educated in other ethnicities and cultures. I think it’s very important to celebrate our heritage and be proud of who we are and not try to assimilate so much into the American culture and forget where we came from.”

More Hispanic Heritage Month events are listed below.

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd