National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time for celebration, and with Goshen College’s new status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the Latino Student Union is feeling the pressure.“I do feel like there’s a big pressure on this month,” said Gladys Leon Diaz, one of the student leaders of LSU. “Just to make sure we’re being inclusive enough. As an HSI … there’s just no way we can’t do anything or do the bare minimum.”
Hispanic Heritage Month comes at a difficult time for students. Falling just weeks after they arrive back on campus, there isn’t much time to get plans in order. Luckily, Joel Lara, a GC grad who now serves as the administrative assistant for the Center for Community Engagement, took initiative to help make plans.
“I’ve been really appreciative of Joel,” said Leon Diaz. “[He] has stepped up to support not just LSU but other groups.”
“I put a group of students together that was LSU, [Commuter Student Association] and then some staff and faculty, about 20 people,” said Lara. “We sort of came up with a list of events for Hispanic Heritage Month.”
In Lara’s time as a student, GC’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration wasn’t extensive.
“In my experience, there was just a convocation and that was pretty much it,” Lara said. “I wanted to do more for the Hispanic community than one 30-40 minute convo.”
For Leon Diaz, being a leader for LSU goes far beyond planning events. One area of focus has been on developing connections with freshmen, many of whom are first-generation college students.
“I know that a lot of [Hispanic students] are first-generation, so they’re figuring out how to navigate the system,” Leon Diaz said. “Having a good support group is really important for them.”
Leon Diaz realized this need after going through her own first year at GC. After she was unable to form personal connections with LSU leaders as a freshman, she knew she had to be different.
“I just wanted to help create [a welcoming] environment for other students,” Leon Diaz said. “I’ve been able to provide help to other students in regards to financial age, to say ‘Hey, I went through that before, this is how you navigate that.’”
Cristóbal Garza González serves as faculty adviser for LSU. His own identity plays a large role in the work that he does.
“In a way, I feel like I’m a professional Mexican,” he said. It affects how he engages with people, food, movies, literature and music: “it’s not like I can be more or less Mexican.”
One thing he’s become aware of in recent years is his growing “pan-Latin-American identity.” He is from Mexico, but now works with a colleague from Perú and will lead Study-Service Term units in Ecuador next spring and summer.
“I’m participating in things not exclusive to Mexico,” Garza Gonzalez said, and it’s interesting “to see the things [Mexico] has in common with Latin America … and the literature that is part of our legacy.”
With reporting contributed by Caleb Shenk.