Photo by Jacklyn Nowotnik
On December 11, 2011 at Regency Inn in Chicago, Aspira Inc. of Illinois celebrated its annual Areyto (ah-ray-toe) ceremony. The Areyto ceremony traces its roots directly back to the indigenous people of Puerto Rico, the Tainos (Tah-ee- nos). For the Tainos, Areyto was a religious ceremony that was celebrated in the main plazas of their Taino communi- ties. This ceremony would bring communities together and festivities would include a fest and ritual songs and dances that would commemorate the good deeds of the Taino people. Today, it seems that the Areyto ceremony serves as an initiation ceremony for new Aspira club members, as well as a renewing of initiation for older members. With Aspira Inc. of Illinois serving more than a dozen schools, the banquet hall was packed with young excited faces waiting to become members of such an educated and proud group of people.
Festivities started out with each Aspira club sitting at their own table and enjoying a meal provided by the banquet hall. After dinner, the ceremony was commenced with a beautiful harmonious rendition of Puerto Rico’s national anthem, La Boriqueña. The anthem was sung by the Aspira Clubs Per- forming Arts Director, Ana Snachez, and other Aspira club students. After the anthem, the room darkened and seemed to come alive with pride for the Areyto ceremony and the Taino people as drums and rain sticks set the mood within the hall. There were several other student performances; which included students acting out Puerto Rican poems in Spanish and English, as well as a Puerto Rican folk dance called Plena. The final performance was plena with Puerto Rican clown like characters called vejigantes (v-he-gan-teh-s), live drums, and singing; by then every one was out of their chair and dancing in a line. Once the excitement had settled down, Aspira Club Federation members and Aspira board directors invited each Aspira club’s president to come to the front and light their white candles with theirs, and bring the lit candle back to their club’s table. Once back to their table, the president would light each club member’s little blue and white candle, and every- one would read aloud the Aspira oath. The oath was read in both Spanish and English and the finals words asked if one accepted the oath. Once accepted; the Chief Youth Development Officer, Ivette Nieves, exclaimed “Once an Aspirante!” Then all of a sudden the whole hall echoed back “ALWAYS AN ASPIRANTE!” This call and response was echoed back a few times more, and everyone blew out their candles. Soon after, the night was filled with music from the DJ, dancing, smiles, laughs and hugs.