Watch Luz de Las Naciones virtual cultural celebration: ‘Unidos en esperanza’

Alba Fonseca Letelier has experienced the Church’s Luz de Las Naciones (Light of the Nations) cultural celebration from two distinct perspectives — as a featured performer and as a frequent audience member.

When she was a little girl, the Utah native and returned missionary was a soloist — singing the popular Spanish-language Christmas tune “Mi Burrito Sabanero.” And like countless other Utah-area Latino Latter-day Saints, attending Luz de Las Naciones events has become an annual tradition.

“This program has been incredible,” she told the Church News. “It has been a blessing to be able to go with my family and, most importantly, an amazing opportunity over the years to bring friends and family members that are less active or non-members.

“They have always left with a gratitude for the cultures, music and dance — and also a feeling of being spiritually uplifted and inspired.”

But 2020, of course, is a year like no other. Many in the Utah Area Latino community wondered if the ongoing pandemic would prompt the cancelation of this year’s Luz de Las Naciones. 

But el espectáculo debe continuar — the show must go on.

The 2020 Luz de Las Naciones will be a two-date digital event — the first event on Saturday, Nov. 7, and the second event on Dec. 19. Each program will highlight diverse Latino heritages and shared beliefs in Jesus Christ — the Light of the world.

“This year’s theme is ‘Unidos en Esperanza,’ or ‘United in Hope,’” said Elder Jorge T. Becerra, a General Authority Seventy. “The program expresses our unwavering belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Many Latter-day Saints look forward to this annual celebration. We hope many will join us on these memorable evenings to once again enjoy Luz de Las Naciones.”

The Nov. 7 program begins at 7 p.m. MST and will feature a Hispanic virtual choir and video highlights from past events. The Dec. 19 event also begins at 7 p.m. and will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. 

A dance troupe of girls in colorful folk costumes participate in a cultural event predating the Church’s annual Luz de Las Naciones celebration.
A dance troupe of girls in colorful folk costumes participate in a cultural event predating the Church’s annual Luz de Las Naciones celebration. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The broadcasts can be viewed at EsperanzaEnJesucristo.org.

Both events will include a never-before-seen Luz de Las Naciones video of performances from the Conference Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Luz de Las Naciones events feature a cast of more than 1,000 Latino dancers, singers and other performers who are Latter-day Saints and their friends.

The roots of Luz de Las Naciones stretches back to the 1920s, when missionaries began preaching in Spanish among Mexicans living in Salt Lake City. Within a year, a mission was organized, and two years after that, a small Spanish-speaking branch was created as families from Latin America and Spain immigrated to Salt Lake City, according to Newsroom.

By 1960, this branch had grown and was known as the Lucero Ward.

For generations, Latinos Latter-day Saints in Utah staged cultural events the would eventually evolve into the Church's annual Luz de Las Naciones celebrations.
For generations, Latinos Latter-day Saints in Utah staged cultural events the would eventually evolve into the Church’s annual Luz de Las Naciones celebrations. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

From the beginning, Church leaders encouraged members of the Lucero Ward to develop their talents. Local leaders organized groups to help youth gain confidence in singing, dancing and dramatic performance. One of these groups performed in the 1930 Church centennial celebration in the Tabernacle.

Dance and music programs helped these Latter-day Saints preserve their culture and pass on their language to the next generation. Other Latter-day Saint congregations in search of cultural entertainment for their social gatherings began requesting “Mexican Fiesta” entertainment at ward dinner parties. Ward members used these opportunities to raise funds for a new chapel.

The abundance of talent cultivated through these performances was passed on to succeeding generations and eventually helped produce what is now known as Luz de Las Naciones.

Former members of the Lucero Ward now lead the volunteer force that helps produce Luz de Las Naciones each year. Kim Ventura, a former member of the dance company in the Lucero Ward and whose father emigrated from Spain, coordinates all volunteer efforts for the event.

Meanwhile, Elder Becerra participated in the Lucero Ward dance company as a child. As an Area Seventy, he led the production of Luz de Las Naciones for six years.

A young Jorge Becerra performs a traditional Mexican folk dance. He would go on to become a General Authority Seventy.
A young Jorge Becerra performs a traditional Mexican folk dance. He would go on to become a General Authority Seventy. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“The humble beginnings of this event reveal faith in action and a multiplying of talents,” Elder Becerra told Newsroom. “Those pioneering efforts began in the early decades of the 20th century lit flames of faith for future generations, now bearing fruit in the event known as the Luz de Las Naciones.”