On April 14th I attended a discussion panel that spoke on the political complexities of the Latino/a/x community. This event took place on campus in the College of Business building and featured three professors, Dr. Carlos Aleman, Dr. Veronica Davila Ellis and Dr. Sergio Gonzalez, chairman of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, Lyons Sancheconcha, Rockingham County Organizer, Karen Valdez. These professionals spent time introducing themselves, they’re connections to the Latino Community and politics, and they’re personal stories. Understanding their point of views on politics was especially interesting as someone from outside of this marginalized group. After the panel questions were given, the floor was opened up to students and faculty to ask questions that brought a JMU focused insight to the discussion.
Dr. Sergio Gonzalez began the event with a background of his childhood, bringing up the fact that his parents were Latino immigrants that raised him in California. His mother, being a Latino activist that encouraged others to advocate for Latino rights in the late 1900s, was an inspirational role model to him ever since he was a young boy. Gonzalez spoke about the struggles that she faced as not only a Latino, but a Latino female during this era, that has brought him to be the successful son he is today. The intersectionality of being female and Latino only decreased any chance that Mrs. Gonzalez had to be prominent in the political world. Gonzalez then told a story about a Mexican family, the Almanderezs, that moved to the U.S. in search of work. At first this family experienced racism, discrimination, and terrible treatment from the white population of Texas until they realized that they’re factories wouldn’t run without them. Mexican immigrants conquered to workforce population in the 1950s, and only for below minimum wage that they were paid, the economy was booming.
One of the main focal points of this discussion was the lack of Latino/a/x representation in politics across the globe. One question that was asked to the panel was “What challenges do you see with democratic engagement and the Latino community?”. This question opened up a discussion for ways the Latino community to reach these platforms. One of the speakers emphasized the fact that educating communities on government/civic processes, explaining how to get into different political positions, and running for them could be a solution to this problem. When marginalized groups aren’t even given the chance/opportunity, to put their foot in the door for positions such as these, it makes it a lot more difficult to gain that representation that is desired. The discussion facilitator also asked how can Latinox voices be better heard in our society, and the response seemed to become the common theme of the event. Latino youth should feel encouraged to get involved with as much as possible. It’s important for these voices to be heard, and that starts here at our school with the Latino youth community.
Towards the end of the discussion when questions were opened up to the audience, one comment in particular stuck with me. A professor from the audience asked a question about the Latino population of the U.S. in comparison to Virginia and JMU. She implied that the population at JMU was much larger than it actually is. One of the panelist immediately cut her off and emphasized that the Latino population at JMU is NOT nearly as large as other universities, and we NEED to work on that. This comment alone made me think about how the Latino community here lacks significantly, so how could we even take a step further to grow their representation in civic engagement at least here at this school? The answer is, we can’t. Without numbers in marginalized groups at colleges such as JMU, these communities have little to work with when it comes to increased representation. “Tokenism” is a term that was introduced by one of the panelists after this comment was made. This is defined as “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.” The speaker explained how tokenism is the sad reality of how some of the Latino community is represented here at this school.
One thought on “Campus event: U.S. Democracy & the Latino/a/x COMMUNITY”
I was interesting in attending this event but didn’t have the chance to, so thanks for sharing this! It is alarming how JMU lacks so much in diversity, and I am glad they are emphasizing that.