Webinar kicks off Latinx/e Heritage Month

The event highlighted student leaders and themes of unity, prosperity, culture.

students sit at a table in La CASA's old room
Pedro Nogeura, dean of the Rossier School of Education, ended the webinar by encouraging Latine students to reflect on how they could continue lifting up their community through education, to ensure that future generations can thrive. (Sasha Ryu / Daily Trojan)

Lively music accompanied a webinar honoring the start of Latinx/e Heritage Month in an event put on by the Latino Alumni Association, La CASA and Student Equity and Inclusion Programs Friday.

The webinar opened with a speech from student life Vice President Monique S. Allard, who spotlighted La CASA student leaders and invited Trojans to join her in the upcoming grand opening of La CASA’s renovated space. 

“I hope the new space will feel like a home away from home for current and future Trojans, a place for family, for mentorship, for support and for friendship,” Allard said. 

The event followed with a series of short remarks from Latine students, faculty and staff. Latino Alumni Association associate and assistant directors Dolores Sotelo and Isabel Aranda came together to recognize the year’s themes of unity, prosperity and culture and celebrate 50 years of LAA on campus.

“At USC we are fortunate to hold space for Latino students, whether at La CASA, through campus organizations and campus partners,” Sotelo said. “This, in turn, offers the opportunity to create unity and celebrate our culture with students and alumni at large.”

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, LAA Executive Director Mercy Willard reinforced the opportunity for celebration and urged participants to be as inclusive as possible this month.

“The committee has been very intentional about it feeling like a [Latinx/e] Heritage Month celebration including all backgrounds, Mexican, Guatemalan, Afro Latino,” Willard said.”That’s … something I’m very proud of, really celebrating the Latino community as a whole,” Willard said.

Following in the aim for an inclusive celebration, students from different walks of life shared a series of remarks.

“It is always so inspiring to see other Latinas thriving here and pursuing what they are most passionate about,” said Karla Padilla Leon, a senior majoring in cognitive science and global medicine. “Because of my background, I feel very connected to my culture, and I love to see celebrations like these that honor our beautiful heritage.” 

Finding a welcoming home on campus was a recurring theme for many students, as they spoke about the challenges of change alongside the warmness of campus communities. 

“I feel like other international students — when they come from their countries to the U.S. — you’re supposed to get out of your comfort zone, but here at USC we’re just put in a different comfort zone, which is amazing,” said Helena Sampaio, a junior majoring in international relations. “I feel home.”

Evelyn Marquez, a senior majoring in non-governmental organizations and social change, spoke on her experiences being a first-generation student.

“Coming to USC … I knew that I would need a strong source of support to really keep going, and thankfully I was able to join Grupo Folklórico de USC my first year, and ever since then, they have been my go-to source of community,” Marquez said.

Alum-turned-McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative program director Lizette Zarate shared what unity, prosperity and culture look like for her. Zarate described unity as a bond connecting diverse communities, prosperity as the dreams of her ancestors, and culture as rich traditions and histories. 

“I am committed to nurturing unidad, fostering prosperidad and celebrating cultura,” Zarate said. “Together we will continue to build a stronger and more inclusive community where these values thrive.”

Pedro Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education, and Stephen Aguilar, assistant professor of education, discussed what it means to be Latino.

Aguilar shared his love for Mexican culture and food. “What does being a Latino mean to me?” he asked. “It means having the best food. It means being a part of a community that is diverse and that is supportive, and that generally is an amazing place to be.”

The webinar ended with final thoughts from Noguera, urging Latinos to take a moment of reflection.

“What does it mean to be Latino?” Noguera said. “How do we continue to lift up our community, particularly now through education, and how do we ensure that future generations will be able to continue to have a life in this country where they cannot not contribute, but they can thrive?”

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