El Centro Latino: “We can’t do it ourselves”

El Centro LACC group shotThis past December 2012, the El Centro Latino Resource Center and the Latin American Culture Club  addressed the Bellevue College community in a letter to all faculty and staff outlining several concerns regarding the representation of marginalized groups on campus. In this letter, the student members of these groups representing the Latino population on campus outlined their frustration and feelings stemming from an overall lack of support by the community. The central concern was that had it not been for the efforts of El Centro and the LACC student members, alongside their advisers Henry Amaya and Cora Nixon, there would have been no recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Members of El Centro and the LACC are excited that this coming spring quarter, Bellevue College will be offering a new ENGL&111 Introduction to Literature course, “Latino American Writers” instructed by David Kopp.

“I am very excited for the fact that we are actually going to have the opportunity to learn about Latino writers here in the US and that this course is now offered here at Bellevue College,” said Director of El Centro Latino Gabriela Gonzalez. “We are telling our story now, we are being taught our story and we actually having a voice here and it feels like the right time and the right moment, it’s perfect.”

“I’ve never learned in a classroom about my own culture and for me that’s a huge deal,” said LACC President Andrea Torres, “We need to see people who have actually been successful and people we can relate to, and the fact that Kopp is going to bring speakers that have Latino background who are actually working in this field, is like the cherry on top.”

Feb. 8 and 18, the Office of Student Legislative Affairs invited El Centro and the LACC to travel with them to Olympia to talked to legislators for the passage of the in-state tuition Dream Act.

“I was actually made their student speaker and I got to talk about my experience personally being undocumented and to represent Bellevue College,” said Torres, “I couldn’t have been more proud to be up there and speak on what’s really effecting me and what I want everyone else to hear.”

“That was just amazing to see one of our own speak for all of us and see Bellevue college come together as one supporting our Latino population and their struggle, it was beautiful,” said Gonzalez.

Feb. 14-17, 2013, members of El Centro and LACC attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute conference in Chicago. There they participated in several interactive activities and workshops, led by prominent members of the Latino community; Dolores C. Huerta, a 50-year veteran community organizer and activist for the Latino community, former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Jimmy Cabrera, President of Success Through Excellence, Richard Montanez, Executive of Multicultural Sales and Community Activation for PepsiCo North America, Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association and poet Michael Reyes.

“There was a completely different environment than we’re used to,” said Torres, “we were in rooms filled with people who looked like us, people that knew where we had come from and influences that we were not used to seeing in our daily lives.”

Despite the positive aspects of attending the conference, BC still needs make some changes.

“We still need to see institutional changes at our college,” said Gonzalez, “El Centro and the LACC are going to continue pushing towards the institutionalization of Hispanic Heritage Month, ensuring that after we’re gone, there will be some kind of foundation in place to carry on its continuance and the recognition of our heritage.”

El Centro Latino and the LACC encourage any students, faculty or staff who wants to participate in any magnitude to contact them or drop by Student Programs.