Many cultural centers were established in the late 1960s and early 1970s in higher ed institutions. The main purpose was to serve as a haven for underrepresented students facing pressing social and political issues. Fast forward to 2018 and that is still the case, especially in a political climate that uses harsh and generalized rhetoric to describe the Latinx immigrant community.
Statements such as: “These aren’t people, these are animals” or “They’re rapists” have a negative profound impact and the wave of immigration backlash resonates throughout every corner of society, including universities.
According to the Pew Research Center, “The number of young Latinos –35 million – increased 20% from a decade earlier, making it one of the largest and fastest-growing youth populations in the country. With a median age of 28, Latinos are also the nation’s youngest major racial or ethnic group.”
Since its establishment in 1972, Casa Latina Cultural Center at Western Illinois University understands the importance of addressing retention and environmental issues that promote or hinder college persistence among Latinx college students. As a student affairs practitioner and Director of Casa Latina, I strive to ensure that our center has a positive impact on retention and our community.
At Casa Latina Cultural Center we are passionate about social justice, intersections of identity and developing students through education, engagement and leadership. Casa Latina provides a unique and empowering space for students to experience college life.
This cultural center also offers a holistic learning experience through programs and initiatives that facilitate the exploration of ethnic identity development, social justice, community outreach, cultural expression, and social and professional networking so students can become the best version of themselves.
We strive to provide educational and innovative programs that promote the awareness, understanding, and celebration of the Latinx community. September and October are months in which many organizations across the nation join in the commemoration of Latinx Heritage Month celebrations.
Many student organizations and departments joined Casa Latina in planning a wide range of events. Events such as:
- An educational and panel about the separation of families sponsored by Sigma Lambda Beta
- A Latinx Women Empowerment Panel that discussed solidarity and sisterhood. Sponsored by Gamma Phi Omega and the WIU Women's Center.
- Viva la Independencia! – an event sponsored by Lambda Theta Alpha celebrating Mexican Independence Day
- Our featured event was a performance by Latin Grammy winning ensemble- Mariachi Flor de Toloache sponsored by the Casa Latina and its Orgs- Amplify, Latin American Student Organization, Tradicion Latin Dance Team, and Mariachi de Oro. In addition, the Community Music School and the Women’s Center
- Another event titled "What Is Colorism?" in which Information about colorism and its effects within social media and on beauty standards was discussed by Sigma Lambda Gamma.
- And on Friday, Oct. 5th Tradición Latin Dance Team will offer salsa and bachata dance lessons. Titled - Tradición Black Light Social
While engaging in the celebration of Latinx Heritage Month is important, it is essential to continue celebrating the community year round.
It is also essential for institutions to continue to support the value of cultural centers and the many ways in which they affect college student life. Simultaneously it is crucial for cultural centers to support the overall mission of the institution while being intentional to the needs of particular student groups.
Casa Latina Cultural Center will continue to build on its past legacy and take a central role in shaping the campus environment by being at the forefront of addressing issues of retention, campus climate, and social justice while cultivating cultural understanding among our community.
College administrators, community members, faculty, and staff --- Casa Latina invites you to assist us in continuing to create a space where all students, including Latinx students, can thrive in an environment in which social, cultural, and academic capital is at the forefront.
You can support our efforts by attending events, promoting cultural understanding in your own areas and by taking a stand when students are faced with pressing social and political issues.
Juntos Si Se Puede!
Rocio Ayard Ochoa is Director of the Casa Latina Cultural Center at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.