Trojan Tales

A family tradition of balloons at USC

Mayte Carrillo details her 20-year family tradition constructing the balloon arch at USC’s La Casa Latinx Graduation Celebration.

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Graduation is a time of celebration here at USC. The flowers, balloons and hawaiian leis, all contribute to a moment in time. In today’s Trojan Tales, Mayte Carrillo highlights a 20-year tradition in the middle of Howard Jones field.

It’s a crisp spring evening in May. Howard Jones field holds a stage for the class of 2000. Right before the seats before the seats fill, I, a curly haired 10-year-old stare in awe. The stage is filled with bright lights and a giant balloon arch.

JENNIFER CARRILLO: I was really nervous because I didn’t want to mess it up.

That’s my sister, Jennifer Carrillo who builds the balloon arch.

CARRILLO: I know that this was my way of showing to everyone else who was going to be at the graduation what we were all about.

For the last 20 years, my family has been constructing the balloon arch for the Latinx Center for Advocacy, better known as La Casa. Leticia Delgado has been at La Casa for 13 years.

CARRILLO: Latinx graduate celebration is so important because it gives us a community space to celebrate and embrace our Latinx identity while commemorating the success of students, who have attained a great achievement of graduating from the University of Southern California.

The Latinx graduation always takes place the second Thursday of May -- a day before the main commencement ceremony.

CARRILLO: We have music and in Spanish. Um, then we walk, walk, uh, through campus up until we get to Cromwell field, it’s so exciting because we have music in Spanish, and everybody is just very excited. It’s so welcoming. The parents are excited.

The balloon arch has personal significance to me and my family. My mother Blanca, started this tradition. She’s an immigrant, a small business owner and a single parent. She depended on my older sister to get our business qualified as an official USC vendor.

CARRILLO: To know that somebody finally looked at us and extended that opportunity was very emotional at the same time, for me to be able to tell my mom, like hey mom, we have our first event at USC and it’s going to be with a Latino graduation.

The balloon arch is 40ft. It’s composed of cardinal and gold balloons. Here’s how it’s made: We take three balloons, tie them together and construct a chain that’s shaped into an arch. The arch is spread across the stage and has flags hanging from it. The flags represent Latin American countries and cultural groups.

CARRILLO: The flags mean a lot because we want to show that we’re inclusive.

One of those flags is from El Salvador, the country my mom is from. I get choked up when I think about how my mother was able to raise kids by herself and manage a business that allowed my sister and me to go to college and now, graduate school.

CARRILLO: And this just gave me more of, like an adrenaline within me, and also more like confidence that grew in me that I could, we could do this and we could continue to grow our family business.

Part of the yearly tradition is having our mom buy us Big Macs from McDonalds.

CARRILLO: You would see all three of us on top of the stage, just eating our big macs and the best part of it was that the DJ that was rehearsing as well and would put cumbia and salsa music as we were eating our, our lunch

Next time you walk through campus during graduation season, stop by Howard Jones Field and take a look for yourself.