“Luz de Las Naciones” celebrates its 20th anniversary

More than 500 music artists from a variety of Latin American countries celebrated unity and belonging through uplifting music and traditional dance as thousands watched “Luz de las Naciones” (“Light of the Nations”) on Saturday, November 5 at the Salt Lake City Conference Center .

The event marked the 20th anniversary of Luz de las Naciones, a celebration of Latin American culture, and a return to in-person performances after two years of virtual programming in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The return to the conference center stage gave greater prominence to this year’s theme, Juntos es Mejor, or Better Together, said Israel Gonzalez Nieri, the music director.

“We’ve been separated for two years,” he said. “But most importantly, Luz de las Naciones has become family to me, and I think it has become family to many, many people.”

Actors dance during a dress rehearsal.

Performers dance during a dress rehearsal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ annual celebration of Latin American culture “Luz de las Naciones” in Salt Lake City on Thursday, November 3, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, attended the program at the Conference Center with his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks.

“Luz de las Naciones” provides an opportunity for many to reconnect with their roots and appreciate other cultures, said Elder Federico M. Kähnlein, an Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“This is a way to come together, learn about other cultures and remember our cultures,” he said. “There’s a sense of unity, of belonging, and it’s open to everyone. It’s a way to feel and remember what’s important to us.”

Although planning and organizing the event sometimes felt like starting a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, Elder Kähnlein said many witnessed miracles and felt heavenly support throughout the process.

Performers dance under the lights during a dress rehearsal.

Performers dance during a dress rehearsal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ annual celebration of Latin American culture, “Luz de las Naciones,” in Salt Lake City on Thursday, November 3, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The program featured a 300-strong choir, a full orchestra and more than 200 dancers in colorful costumes performing numbers from Ecuador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico and Chile.

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a message of unity as part of the program. The Apostle from Brazil also expressed his gratitude to each artist and everyone who has contributed to this celebration of Hispanic culture over the past 20 years.

“I hope that you will enjoy this occasion and feel how unity of thought, culture, emotion, and faith are important elements of our union with God and His Son Jesus Christ,” Elder Soares said in Spanish. “Through the Savior’s Atonement, we can live in unity and enjoy peace in this life and prepare to live forever with the Father and His Son. I believe that each of us can foster this norm of unity among our friends, our family, our community, and especially those who are different from us.”

Actors dance during a dress rehearsal.

Performers dance during a dress rehearsal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ annual celebration of Latin American culture “Luz de las Naciones” in Salt Lake City on Thursday, November 3, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The opportunity to appear in Luz de las Naciones was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Martha Alejandra Vera Rodriguez, a 24-year-old woman from Guayaquil, Ecuador.

She grew up recording the performances and developed a passion for dancing through her mother’s Ecuadorian dance company. She dreamed of one day coming to Utah to dance on the conference center stage.

Vera Rodridguez, wearing a white blouse and blue skirt with a brimmed hat on Saturday night, smiled and waved her yellow handkerchief as she hopped and moved to the music of the Ecuadorian song “Por Eso Te Quiero, Cuenca” (“Therefore I love you, Cuenca”, a picturesque city in Ecuador).

Martha Alejandra Vera Rodriguez and other cast members dance during a dress rehearsal.

Martha Alejandra Vera Rodriguez and other performers dance during a dress rehearsal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ annual celebration of Latin American culture “Luz de las Naciones” on Thursday, November 3, 2022 in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

After several unsuccessful attempts, Vera Rodridgez was finally able to come to Utah last year to study English. She practiced dancing for several months in preparation for auditioning for Luz de las Naciones. Tears began to flow as she described her long journey to this moment, the hardships and why it meant so much. She expressed her love and appreciation for her Heavenly Father, her family, and many “wonderful” friends for their unwavering support along her journey.

“This is the first time they’ve recorded an Ecuadorian number. It’s special for me to dance for Ecuador because I’m from there and all my family and friends can see me,” she said in Spanish. “But it’s not just about me, it’s something special for all of us. We came together and we feel like family in this performance. I can’t find the words to express how I felt every day and at every rehearsal.”

The engagement of the soloist Alex Melecio for “Luz de las Naciones” dates back to 2007. The Mexican-born was accompanied at this year’s performance by his children, 14-year-old twins David and Cami, who played cello and viola in the orchestra.

Soloist Alex Melecio sings

Soloist Alex Melecio sings during a dress rehearsal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ annual celebration of Latin American culture “Luz de las Naciones” on Thursday, November 3, 2022 in Salt Lake City.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Melecio sang four songs this year, including one from Disney’s “Encanto” and another in a Mexican mariachi outfit. He loved the energetic music and how it brought people from different cultures together, even on a deeper, spiritual level.

“There is something special about the purpose of the event, the why behind it and the fact that you can be part of such a great, powerful cause. You can feel it, it’s tangible,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”

“Luz de las Naciones” will be available on-demand on the ChurchofJesusChrist.org broadcast page in English, Portuguese, and Spanish beginning November 19, and on the Church’s Spanish YouTube channel.

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