Jessica Mendoza, Staff Writer
From the first moment I arrived at the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI), the atmosphere was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Two weeks ago, Augsburg Latin American Students (ALAS) took a group of 12 students to Chicago for the conference. It was empowering to be surrounded by other passionate Latinx leaders from across the nation. I had never been to Chicago before, so it was a great experience to visit Millennium Park and to view Navy Pier from my hotel window each morning.
The event began by hosting a Latina Empowerment breakfast and was followed by workshops. Each meal at the conference had a Latinx keynote speaker who described their career and offered wisdom to the audience. The fact that the workshops were led by Latinx presenters was incredible because I could look up to someone who shared a similar background to me. I was grateful to attend the workshops where I learned about immigration law, the term Chicano and the works of under-recognized Latinx authors. I learned about Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez, a Mexican-American boxer, poet and activist during the Civil Rights Movement. I also had a chance to meet Dolores Huerta, an American labor leader and civil rights activist, who co-founded the United Farm Workers Association with Cesar Chavez.
USHLI also provided entertainment elements to the conference by bringing Mariachi’s and hosting a dance, karaoke and a talent show. Josue Lopez Ayona, historian for ALAS said, “It’s a one of a kind experience. If you attend, be prepared to make lots of connections.” Natalya Arevalo, a member of ALAS stated, “I saw people who had so many things in common with me without even needing to have a conversation with them. We would laugh at the same jokes and feel discomfort towards things that people from other cultures might not understand. It’s a profound feeling to be connected to so many people without even needing to say anything.”
The Latinx population is growing, but we sadly are not well represented in political and social platforms. Young Latinx leaders need guidance and should be given the chance to step out of their lives to see the bigger picture. USHLI provides an environment where leaders can be themselves without having to worry about being marginalized as people of color. Once I arrived back on campus, sharing the experiences and knowledge I gained from USHLI made others around me excited to learn more as well. Each person I told about the workshops and sense of community expressed interest in wanting to experience USHLI for themselves. I hope more Augsburg University students are able to attend the conference next year so they can gain the indescribable experience of coming together proudly as Latinx leaders.
This article first appeared in the Friday, March 2, 2018, Edition of The Echo.