Author: Nicole Murray
Hispanic Heritage Month is the annual celebration of the history and culture of the Hispanic and Latin communities in the United States. The tradition began in 1968 as “Hispanic Heritage Week” under Lyndon B. Johnson and later expanded to encompass a month-long span, September 15th to October 15th, under Ronald Regan in 1988 (read more).
Today’s spotlight is MarCe Zerrate:
MarCe Zerrate is the founder of the dance and cultural education organization which she lovingly named “Amor and Heritage.” Amor and Heritage prides itself on being a multicultural organization which offers not only dance workshops, but original experiences designed to immerse its participants in the history, clothing, music, dance, and traditions of basically whichever country (or countries) they choose. When MarCe and her team of accomplished dancers and speakers come to your school, college, or workplaces, you can expect a lot of fun, movement, and learning.
When MarCe moved to Buffalo in 2006, she immediately noticed the lack of diversity in her community. Eager to begin connecting with her new city, she began volunteering for Thanksgiving and in this program, she met a young boy who appeared to be Latino. But when she tried to speak with him in Spanish, he said something that struck her: “I don’t want anyone to see me as different, I want to be like everyone else.”
This stuck with MarCe and she began to put her skills as a dancer and a businesswoman together to create what would eventually become Amor and Heritage. Her first connection was to an organization called FANA (the Spanish acronym for “Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children) which places adopted children from Bogotá, Colombia with families in Western New York and it was through this organization that she began to find her community. She began teaching the children adopted through FANA about their heritage and culture and saving her earnings to eventually begin her own non-profit organization.
Amor and Heritage was officially born in 2012 and MarCe’s first priority was education. She said, “I want the kids to feel proud so we are going to use words that are positive. We are going to say ‘self-love’ words and everything is going to be about kindness, love, tolerance, and understanding.” The next priority for MarCe was dance. MarCe has an impressive dance background and was a dancer at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC with the Washington National Opera. Both of these elements were blended together in the first pitches that she sent out to local colleges and schools and she was overwhelmed when the first call came in just a week later.
MarCe tells the delightful story of the first performance that Amor and Heritage was contracted to perform: “I didn’t have costumes! My mommy was already making some and she was going to send them from Colombia and they didn’t arrive on time. So the day before, I’m looking for every fabric I had in the house. And my husband was like, ‘What happened to the curtains?!’ But I had used all of the curtains and tablecloths I could find (luckily we are very colorful!) so we could have costumes. And those were the first costumes that we used.”
The costumes worn by Amor and Heritage dancers have evolved quite a lot since then (be sure to check out the beautiful sparkly costume from their latest performance!) and so has the range of dance styles that they are able to present on. This includes one of MarCe’s favorites, the Cumbia – the national dance of Colombia which features mostly movement from the hips up while the feet basically stay in place.
The Cumbia is a powerful reminder of how important dance is to the Latino culture. MarCe recounts in her presentations how when enslaved Africans were brought to Colombia, they were forbidden to fall in love with the enslaved indigenous people of Colombia. However, celebratory dances were usually allowed on the plantations so courtship was only able to be communicated through dance. The Cumbia blends dance elements of traditional African and native Colombian dances with the costumes reflecting European colonization. While the reaction upon hearing this story is mostly sadness, MarCe reminds us that, “Love always wins.”
Amor and Heritage will be at the National Hispanic Heritage Celebration in Amherst on October 1st at the Amherst Center for Senior Services. They are also available for hire for your students or your next gathering. If you are interested in hiring them, please contact MarCe at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website here.
Photo by Glenn Murray