When Rocio Arellano began her freshman year at USC in spring 2013, she didn’t know anyone. Worse yet, she was a spring admit and it seemed everyone had made friends already. Arellano came to USC certain she didn’t want to join a Panhellenic sorority, but she always wanted an older sister.
“I have [younger] sisters so I wanted someone who was older than me to give me advice, do my hair and help me with things,” Arellano said.
A friend she met at orientation heard about the multicultural Greek community — which Arellano said includes 12 fraternities and sororities that represent different cultural identities and has approximately 80 members — and recommended she attend an interest meeting for one of the Latina sororities on campus.
The process of joining many of the Latina sororities and Latino fraternities is different than the rush process for the Panhellenic system. They often require that students be classified as an “interest” for a semester before deciding to begin the formal pledge process.
“For a semester or more they get to know us as brothers, as friends,” said Community Service Chair of Lambda Theta Phi Jorge Calderon. “We become closer with them and it’s like a sneak peek into what being a brother would be like.”
Students who are “interests” help plan community service and academic events for the fraternity of their choosing.
Unlike the Interfraternity Council houses, which can have anywhere from 60-200 members, most Latina sororities and Latino fraternities at USC have fewer than 10 active members in each chapter. Pledge classes typically consist of three to five students. The groups become very close and often feel they are closer as brothers than their IFC peers.
“The one thing that really kept me going was bonding with these guys,” said Bryan Sandoval, vice president of USC’s chapter of Lambda Theta Phi. “I was hanging out with them all the time; I was really knowing them on a beyond-surface level. We developed a bond that was beyond associating by letters; we were actually associated by similar experiences.”
Because of their small size, Latina sororities and Latino fraternities have difficulty funding both academic and social events. Arellano added that an appealing factor of the Latino Greek community is that the dues are substantially lower compared to the dues of the IFC system. Latino Greek organizations are considered more affordable for students, but the small size of the system coupled with the less expensive dues means less funding over all.
Calderon said the Latina/o Greek community tends to be smaller because the number of Latino students on campus is smaller, particularly when compared to the larger public universities in Southern California.
The interest and pledge process caters to smaller pledge classes. Latino fraternity Sigma Delta Alpha, however, does a rush week similar to the IFC process. As a result, this fraternity tends to recruit more members.
Calderon said one of the major myths of the Latina/o Greek community is that you have to be of Latin heritage to join.
“Recently in my fraternity we’ve been branching out, trying to recruit people that are not of Latino heritage,” he said. “One of my interests right now, he’s actually Italian and he just loves the Latino culture. The Latina sororities and Latino fraternities refer to themselves as ‘Latin by tradition but not by definition.’”
For Arellano, who went to a high school that was 99 percent Latino, becoming part of Lambda Theta Alpha was an easy choice.
The pledge process, however, has been described as extremely taxing.
A current pledge who wished to remain anonymous said that she was required to give her sorority sisters her class and work schedule, and when she is not in class or at work she has to be willing to attend a meeting at any time. She is required to devote 15 hours each week to studying in addition to pledge activities and had to drop a class in order to keep up with her many obligations.
Both the pledges and the current members, however, said that the difficulty of the pledge process is an essential part of forming such a close bond and that many of the pledge processes and activities that are time-consuming are deeply rooted in tradition.
Lambda Theta Phi’s mascot is the conquistador. Sandoval explained this icon is also largely symbolic of the pledge process.
“It represents the journey of the conquistador leaving the old land, which would be our old selves, and conquering that new land, which is learning and developing that new gentleman we want to become,” he said.
Adrian Mendoza, member of the Lambda Upsilon Lambda fraternity, said he rushed an IFC fraternity but ultimately decided not to pledge because he wanted to become more in touch with his Latino cultural heritage.
He stressed the unique experience of the Latino fraternities as they focus largely on family, academics and community service. He said getting to know the families of the brothers as well as the brothers themselves is a distinct difference from other organizations.
“We believe in looking upon your family’s history and heritage and finding strength in that,” Mendoza said. “You have your family and you have your fraternity brothers and they get blended together.”
One of the many unique traditions of the Latina sororities and Latino fraternities is saluting, which comes from the militaristic traditions of organizations such as Lambda Theta Phi and Lambda Theta Alpha. Calderon describes this militaristic performance as poetry in motion. Members march and stomp and also include chants unique to each organization. Saluting is often used in the process of presenting new members.
Becoming a member of a Latina/o organization creates opportunities to learn about one’s culture and share it with other students.
Additionally, the potential for growth within the Latina sororities and Latino fraternities at USC is apparent. Arellano, who is now president of her chapter, said being part of the organization has increased her confidence and leadership skills.
“I’ve always been a really shy girl and now I’ve learned how to take on leadership roles and how not to be scared to actually push for what you want,” she said. “I was always scared of speaking in front of people. Saluting in front of a crowd of 200 people would have terrified me before, but not anymore.”
Editor’s note: This post and the headline have been updated.