Last fall, USC’s Hispanic population made up 12.5 percent of the entire student body. This year, a larger number of Latino students have been admitted to the University, with William Vela, Director of USC’s El Centro Chicano, and his team predicting a rise in the population to roughly 13 percent.
September is National Hispanic Heritage Month, which was founded in 1968 by U.S. Representative Edward R. Roybal and President Lyndon B. Johnson, to recognize the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States. The celebration started on Sept. 15, the anniversary of many Latin countries such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and ends on Oct. 15, according to the official National Hispanic Heritage Month website.
“Even though it’s fun to celebrate, it’s more important to really have people get a chance to get a better understanding of us and our issues, but also how they relate to them and how we can work more together,” Vela said. “We really want to help with the learning. Celebrating is just the starting point for us, in the end we want to feed students minds and souls.”
El Centro Chicano’s mission is to inform the campus on ethnic diversity and Latino issues, as well as be a source of advocacy, empowerment and a support system for Latino students. The organization has planned various events to celebrate the National Hispanic Heritage Month. The center kicked-off the month with an event featuring Guatemalan rapper and activist, Rebeca Lane, at Bovard Auditorium on Sept. 13.
Lectures, discussions and events are being held throughout the next few weeks with the goal of spotlighting the Latino community and raising awareness. Sharing information and increasing understanding are focal points for the month.
There are close to 40 different Latino clubs and organizations on campus, and this growing population is looking for ways to feel at home. Cindy Andrade, a sophomore majoring in mathematics and the residential advisor of the Sol y Luna Latino Floor in Fluor Tower, said that she was extremely nervous about first coming to USC, but that the Latino Floor and El Centro Chicano helped her make friends and find comfort.
Current Sol y Luna residents Sonia Chavez-Mesa and Andrea Diaz said that wanting to feel at home influenced their decision to be a part of the Hispanic community at USC.
“Being of Hispanic heritage, I personally always feel alone. It’s nice to find people and a community I feel comfortable with, and to find people with a similar background,” said Chavez-Mesa, an undeclared freshman.
Additionally, the residents emphasized the need to spotlight their community. Diaz stressed the importance of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
“National Hispanic Heritage Month is really important, especially at a place like USC with so much diversity,” said Diaz, a freshman majoring in economics.“You get a sort of culture shock and want to hold onto your own culture. A month like this is really important and helps us show pride in our culture.”
Aside from Rebeca Lane, notable speakers such as Elvis Guzman, and USC Professor and Director of the Tomás Riviera Policy Institute, Roberto Suro, will be hosting discussions over the next few weeks to allow Latino students to talk about issues, concerns and philosophies of the Latino community.
Additionally, El Centro Chicano will host the Student-Faculty Meet and Greet for students on Oct. 13, allowing students to interact with professionals of nearly all communities and establish connections for after their time at USC.
Vela hopes that the events this month will engage all USC students and highlight the values of the Latino community.
“We have so many things to be proud of, so many things to celebrate,” Vela said. “We have such a diverse community. And it’s not just all the countries being spotlighted, because that’s a lot right there, but it’s all the different identities. “