Latin American Student Union discusses importance of National Latinx Heritage Month


Friday, Sept. 15 marked the beginning of National Latinx Heritage Month. Throughout the month, student organizations are celebrating with a diverse array of events for members of the College of William and Mary community.

According to Emiko O’Cadiz ’24, historian for the Latin American Student Union, Latinx Heritage Month, which lasts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, honors Latinx, Hispanic and cross-cultural identities.

“[Latinx Heritage Month] is a time to celebrate our cultural achievements and contributions,” O’Cadiz wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. 

In celebration of the month, LASU has held several events, including “History of Empanadas” and “Taste of Latinx” celebrations, a picnic and an “Around the World Craft Night” with WMFIRE, another student organization that advocates for immigrant rights. In the next three weeks, LASU plans to host other events, including an international mini market pop-up with the South Asian Student Association, a karaoke night and a mock quinceañera with Political Latinxs United for Movement and Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, the College’s Latinx fraternity.

During the “Around the World Craft Night” event, participants painted flags of their respective countries and discussed the importance of flags in identity and history.

“One of our pillars is education and learning service,” LASU president Ashley Carranza-Lopez ’24 said.

LASU also values connection, with many members referring to the community as a “familia”, or family.

“What we really preach on is family,” Carranza-Lopez said. “Everything that we do is together, we don’t use ‘I’, we use ‘we.’”

“What we really preach on is family,” Carranza-Lopez said. “Everything that we do is together, we don’t use ‘I’, we use ‘we.’”

Carranza-Lopez described the LASU community as a second home, especially for members who feel isolated or far from their families. 

Traditions such as bigs and littles — where all new members are paired with an older member — ensure community members feel welcomed while providing a source of mentorship.

In addition to fostering family among its members, LASU strives to connect with other Latinx organizations on campus through presentations and mixers.

“Our exec group this year was really focused on unification with the Latinx orgs on campus,” Carranza-Lopez said. “We’ve always felt like there was a disconnect with them just because they’re so different, but I think the differences is what’s really important.”

These efforts are visible through several joint Latinx Heritage Month events this fall, such as the “Around the World Craft Night,” the international mini market pop-up, the mock quinceañera, a dance social with Queer People of Color and a carne asada with SASA.

“I feel like we’ve been making more connections with the other [multicultural organizations] on campus, and that is one of the main things that I want to see continue in the future,” O’Cadiz said.

Another of LASU’s core values is inclusivity, particularly in terms of cultural representation.

“A general issue in the Latino community is that a lot of people sometimes feel they aren’t ‘Latino enough’ due to not being able to speak Spanish,” O’Cadiz said. “Recognizing that we come from so many different experiences is really, really important to us and to make our members feel really comfortable with us as well.”

Bella Martinez ’27, a new member of LASU, appreciates how the organization stresses belonging.

“I was kind of nervous going to the first meeting, but ever since then I’ve definitely felt welcomed,” Martinez said. “Everyone is super friendly and introduces themselves and it’s really nice.”

Martinez looks forward to her next four years with LASU.

“I hope to get more involved with the club and meet some more people,” Martinez said. “I would also like to maybe get a position on the exec board or something, but just fostering this community and promoting people’s cultures.”  

LASU has further emphasized its commitment to inclusivity through its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. The organization created the DEI chair and committee last fall, with the goal of amplifying unheard voices within the Latinx community.

According to Carranza-Lopez, at the beginning of the year, new members added their names and respective countries to a spreadsheet. This allows the executive team to organize celebrations tailored to members’ cultures, such as national holidays and festivities.

“Recognizing and celebrating those important holidays are essential to do,” O’Cadiz said.

In the past, LASU has also hosted food-related presentations to spotlight different countries. Last year, the organization held a “History of Arroz” event, which highlighted Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru and El Salvador. This year’s “History of Empanadas” featured Mexico, Haiti, Ecuador and Guatemala.

“Through that whole event, we had cooking groups,” Carranza-Lopez said. “You come in as strangers, you leave out as family, as friends.”

“Through that whole event, we had cooking groups,” Carranza-Lopez said. “You come in as strangers, you leave out as family, as friends.”

Carranza-Lopez and O’Cadiz acknowledged Latinx students’ many contributions at the College, both inside and outside of LASU.

“Our unique experiences bring different perspectives in classrooms, especially in classes that are white-dominated,” O’Cadiz said. “All Latinx students on this campus bring unique cultural perspectives and unique political and educational experiences that some others may not have.”

To further support Latinx students at the College, Carranza-Lopez stressed the importance of increasing accessibility for non-English speakers through signs and brochures in Spanish.

“The biggest step in what the school could do is provide more resources and become more inclusive, not just with our actions but with our voice,” Carranza-Lopez said. “It’s not even just for Latinx, it’s for every other multicultural organization.”

O’Cadiz echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing the significance of providing Latinx students with greater opportunities and support at a predominately white institution.

“I think the administration has made efforts to acknowledge diversity, but I think we need to make more of an effort toward equity,” O’Cadiz said.

Both Carranza-Lopez and O’Cadiz are proud of LASU’s growth over the past four years. According to Carranza-Lopez, the organization expanded from a membership of around 30 students to 166 students between her freshman and senior year.

“I honestly just want to get bigger,” Carranza-Lopez said. “Especially in the Latinx community, there’s so much intersectionality, we bleed into others, and I just want us to continue staying to our roots and being open and accepting, loving, and being willing to learn, to build.”


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