My experience at the Minnesota Young Adult Latino Leadership Academy

Melissa Flores Jaimes, Contributor

Spending my weekend at a two-day leadership conference at Macalester College went beyond my expectations. The conference was Minnesota Young Adult Latino Leadership Academy (MYALA), where students from seven other Minnesota colleges and universities came together. This conference was set up for students to connect with Minnesota Latinx professionals who have career experience and are willing to help us find a mentor in order to build community advancement projects.
I went to Macalester with three Augsburg students representing our school. I would have not known about this conference without Ruby Murillo, an advocate for Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research and the lead director of Augsburg Latin American Students (ALAS). There were about 14 Latinx students at the conference. People from many different areas such as California, Costa Rica and Venezuela came together to meet with speakers from various work fields. This was a great networking opportunity, as we were able connect afterwards and receive their business cards.
Both days were dramatically different; it was a conference that took organizer Sara Parcero over a year and a half to organize. The first day, we met a Texas-born Chicano Latino artist named Jimmy Longoria. Longoria is very important to the city of Minneapolis, as his colorful murals are displayed in local buildings on Lake Street. Longoria created a non-profit organization called Mentoring Peace Through Art, and its main purpose is to demonstrate that art is not just recreational; it is a medium for expressing culture. He gave us a speech about the importance of following your dreams, not because your parents tell you to, but because you are passionate about them.
Just like many other stories that night, Longoria’s was unique because people did not believe that he would succeed as an artist. This is fascinating because Longoria started off in law school but left to pursue his artistic dreams. MYALA also gave me the opportunity to meet state Senator Torres Ray, Richfield city council member Maria Regan Gonzalez and state representative Fue Lee. In just two days, I was able to make great friendships with other Latinx students from different colleges. It is always important to have connections on campus with your culture, but being able to meet other students from other colleges with a similar background is also important.
There is a dense Latinx population in Minnesota, and it is important for us to not be seen as the minority anymore but instead be looked at as the growing population we are. I would recommend others to apply for any opportunities they see that might be interesting and beneficial for them. Although this conference lasted only two days, it motivated me to continue painting and to start taking art more seriously. Staying connected with your roots and staying true to yourself during college.

This article first appeared in the Friday, March 2, 2018, Edition of The Echo.