Latinx and Hispanic activism is relatively rare in New England. Compared to states like Florida and California, where Hispanic/Latinx people make up the largest ethnic group, the Latinx presence in Massachusetts is tiny. Colleges and universities in the Boston area reflect this smaller Hispanic and Latinx presence.
For example, Brandeis’s undergraduate population is only 7.1 percent “Hispanic/Latino.” But the Brandeis Latinx Student Organization (BLSO, formerly Ahora), an ICC club on campus, provides Brandeis’ relatively small Latinx population with a means to connect, organize and share their culture. Latinx campus organizations like BLSO are incredibly important in schools with smaller Latinx populations, because they spread much-needed awareness of Latinx issues and provide a cohesive community for Latinx and Hispanic people.
Before I discuss BLSO in more detail, I should explain some of the basics of Latinx organizing. “Latinx” is a gender neutral term for Latino/a that is preferred by many people of Latin-American descent. “Hispanic” refers to anyone of Spanish-speaking descent, including both Spanish and Latin-American people. The phrase “Latinx issues” includes all issues that affect Spanish-speaking countries and the people who migrate elsewhere from those countries.
Miranda Hurtado-Ramos ’19, an active member of BLSO, describes the club as “a place for Latinx students on campus to organize socially and politically, learn about their culture and celebrate their culture together.” It is important for Latinx Brandeis students to organize because knowledge of Latinx issues at Brandeis isn’t necessarily universal or widespread.
Jose Castellanos ’18, another member of BLSO, said, “I don’t believe that non-Latinx Brandeis students know a lot about Latinx issues. Many non-Latinx people have a one-sided view of Latin America.” Hurtado-Ramos thinks that “knowledge of some Latinx issues is widespread, but students here don’t know as much about the struggles of undocumented people. I’m from Houston, where the treatment of undocumented people is a huge issue, so it’s interesting to see how people here don’t know as much about it.”
BLSO is essential not only to raise awareness amongst non-Latinx students, but also to help connect Latinx students to each other. Castellanos explained that when he first came to Brandeis, “I felt like an outsider due to my Latino status. There was no clear sense of oneness in the Latino community here.” When he found out about BLSO, he knew that he could use the club as a space to share his pride in his heritage with other Latinx students. “I feel that I had a part in uniting the Hispanic community here. I decided to put every Hispanic student at Brandeis into a Facebook group. Now we can communicate and make BLSO better. We can encourage a sense of community and take more pride in our shared Hispanic experience.”
Fortunately, BLSO is growing. Once a small, dispersed community, BLSO has started to plan cultural events and be more expressive politically. One of BLSO’s key goals is to spread awareness of the variety and diversity of different Latinx cultures. Many non-Latinx people see Hispanic and Latinx people as monolithic, but BLSO’s cultural events seek to work against this narrow-minded perception.
Hurtado-Ramos mentioned that BLSO is “planning a lot more events and a big culture show. We’re expanding outreach and increasing our membership. We are even planning an event in conjunction with the Caribbean Culture Club about the Afro-Latinx experience.” She hopes that BLSO’s events will “exemplify the differences in our countries of origin and show who we are as a community and as a people.”
In the future, BLSO hopes to grow even more than it already has. Castellanos expressed that he wants “better representation of Latinx/Hispanic culture at Brandeis, and a greater sense of pride in who we are as a community.” He hopes that BLSO can help increase campus awareness of Latinx issues.
“I want BLSO to start becoming more active in Brandeis and in the Waltham community. There is a strong immigrant community in Waltham, and I want to see what we can do as students to get involved with community,” Hurtado-Ramos noted.
BLSO has Spanish, Mexican, Central American and indigenous members, and this diversity adds a variety of perspectives on what it means to be Hispanic or Latinx. Both Castellanos and Hurtado-Ramos say that BLSO has helped them appreciate diversity amongst Latinx people.
“I feel that now we can appreciate each other’s differences. Though we do have a shared culture as Latinx-Americans, there are differences between cultures and countries. By organizing as BLSO, we can celebrate those cultural differences,” Castellanos said.
Unfortunately, 2016 is an extremely urgent year for Latinx issues. Bigotry against Hispanic and Latinx people is being expressed openly by many politicians and political groups. Immigration is a hot-button issue and several political and economic crises have erupted in Latin America. This buildup of Hispanic and Latinx issues has been very stressful for many Latinx-Americans.
“As a Latinx student, and as someone of Mexican descent, I feel very passionately about this election. I think it’s important to note that despite one of our candidates being more forthright about border policies, Obama has deported more immigrants than any past president. Latinx people need to see a cultural change and a political change,” Hurtado-Ramos said. However, solidarity within Latinx organizations has helped many Latinx people heal from this year’s traumas.
When asked about the struggles of this election year, Castellanos replied that, “If anything, I feel that my values are more solidified in who I am as a Latino, and for many we now can better appreciate who we are because in this adversity we have faced, we are still unified.”
Latinx organizations like BLSO are important to society because they fight stigma against Latinx people. BLSO helps Latinx students heal from and unite against oppression. It provides a base from which the Latinx and Hispanic communities and Brandeis as a whole can flourish into cohesive, supportive and politically and socially active groups.