Students discuss El Centro Chicano name change at town hall

Latinx students, faculty and alumni attended a town hall hosted by USC Latinx organizations to discuss a name change for El Centro Chicano, USC’s Latinx student resource center.

Kyle Kawaguchi | Daily Trojan

The Central American Network, the Latinx Student Assembly, the Latino/a Graduate Student Association and El Centro Chicano have been discussing ways to create a more inclusive space under El Centro Chicano since February. CAN proposed a name change through a petition in February.

Some students agreed that the new name of the resource center should encompass the growing population of Central American, South American and Caribbean students at USC as well as international, LGBTQ and Afrolatinx groups.

Some attendees suggested new names for the center such as El Centro de las Américas (The Center of the Americas), El Centro de la Gente (The Center of the People) and LA CASA, an acronym for Latinx Center for Advocacy and Student Affairs, which also translates to “the home” in Spanish.

“The name itself is so important,” said Valeria Ortiz, a Colombian American freshman who attended the event. “It signals to students, especially new incoming students, a place where they belong. If from the beginning, they hear a name they don’t identify with, it might have negative repercussions to those students who might need a space.”

Several students who spoke at the event said they felt discouraged from seeking resources at the center because its name did not encompass their identity. A few Central American students said some groups of Latinx descent feel like a minority within a minority, and that a name change would be a step toward changing that.

“Identity is so fluid, [and so are] our names. Our institutions should be just as fluid,” Ortiz said. “That fact that we’re being able to choose the name right now is really empowering for us as students.”

In a statement, CAN, LSA, LGSA and El Centro Chicano said, “[The organizations] are working diligently … to find the most inclusive name that will resonate with constituents and honor the center’s legacy as well.”

The question of a name change has come up before, according to Billy Vela, director of El Centro Chicano.

“It is clear that a name change is needed as stated by each organization part of this coalition at tonight’s Town Hall meeting,” he said. “We will continue to move forward in finalizing a name that builds off El Centro Chicano’s legacy and is more inclusive for current and future Trojans.”

CAN called for the center to drop “Chicano” from its name in February and garnered approximately 300 signatures in a petition.

The term “Chicano” has been associated exclusively with Mexican Americans and was utilized throughout the 1960s Chicano movement, which advocated for civil rights and empowerment of Mexican Americans.

Tomás Durán, an alumnus and administrator of special projects for the Price School of Public Policy, grew up with parents who were involved in the Chicano movement. He acknowledged the reasons for change, but said his understanding of the definition of Chicano encompassed more than just Mexican Americans.

“For me, Chicano is not so much a cultural identity as much as it is a political consciousness,” Durán said. “[Growing up Chicano] meant that you were progressive, that you were concerned about your community to help other people improve their lives to advance everybody as a whole.”

Some attendees said they  were open to keeping the message of empowerment behind the term “Chicano” intact.

“I want [the name] to maintain the spirit of the Chicano Movement, that spirit of wanting to change, wanting to sort of champion social and human rights,” Ortiz said. “I want it to keep that essence as well so [I want a name] that includes all students who identify as Latin American or as Latinx as well as maintain the activist spirit.”

Vela said it is important to maintain the roots of  the center.

“We value our history and the movement that fought for this incredible ethnic specific center,” he said. “Building on El Centro Chicano’s legacy, this provides our diverse community an opportunity for us to dig deep, think critically and figure out how to move the Trojan Familia forward in this new charged political climate era.”

After the organizations narrow down the list of names brainstormed at the town hall, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry will review the name and decide whether to approve it, Vela said.