El Centro Chicano celebrated its 40th anniversary Saturday with food, music, dancing and awards.
Three-hundred and eighty students, alumni, parents, faculty and administrators descended on Town and Gown to honor the cultural center’s continued support of Latino and Latina students at USC. El Centro Chicano Director William N. Vela emphasized that running El Centro, which oversees more than 20 programs and organizations, is a team effort.
“Without everyone, we wouldn’t have this,” Vela said. “It sounds like words, but it isn’t. It’s from the heart.”
Darline Robles, a professor of clinical education at USC and former superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, spoke about her experiences at USC and the need to ensure college educations for Latinos.
“If you do what’s right for our community, it’s right for the broader community,” Robles said. “El Centro fulfills this vision.”
This vision stands crucial to campus, said Vice President of Student Affairs Michael Jackson, who oversees USC’s cultural centers.
“El Centro Chicano has played a key role in welcoming and, more importantly, helping young men and women find their way in this institution so they can go and find their dreams in society,” Jackson said. “El Centro is crucial to diversity and culture at USC. For years, the Trojan Family meant certain families — now it means all families.”
This resonated with John Rodriguez, vice president of the Latino Parent Association for 2011-12, who became involved in the LPA to encourage parents to be involved.
“My son is the first to graduate from college,” Rodriguez said. “In the LPA, the first meeting that I went to showed me that my student is a Trojan, so I’m a Trojan, too.”
This sense of family has been consistent as long as El Centro has been on campus. 1987 alumna Reyna Corral said that as a first-generation Latina student in the 1980s, when about five percent of students were Latinos, she felt a little isolated until she arrived at El Centro.
“It was really a home away from home,” Corral said. “It was a place to go and be around people like me where I could be comfortable.”
Fatima Djelmane, associate director for Proyecto Pastoral and an ’01 alumna, said she remembers being invited to visit El Centro while living in Parkside as a freshman.
“I felt alone despite the fact that my mom was a Trojan. I had that support, but I still felt culture shock,” Djelmane said. “El Centro changed my path at USC by ensuring I had the support and community to make it.”
This rings true for current students such as Darlyn Zenteno Aguilar, a sophomore majoring in math and psychology, who said living on the El Centro-sponsored Latino Floor helped her get acclimated to campus.
“For me it was special to make these lifelong friends on the Latino floor,” Aguilar said. “As a freshman, you’re new, but with El Centro Chicano, you feel at home at USC faster.”
Rubi Garcia, a sophomore majoring in American studies, said meeting alumni through El Centro’s programs motivates and inspires her.
“You meet people who have started out the same way you did and you see what they’ve done,” she said. “It inspires you to get involved and make the most of your time at USC.”