El Congreso de UCSB hosted its 30th annual Latine College Day on April 29, gathering 300 middle and high school students from across three counties to host a day of keynote speakers, workshops, performances and group activities.
Latine College Day is an annual conference originally conceptualized as an opportunity for outreach to primarily Latinx middle and high school students — a demographic historically underprioritized for general outreach by the university, according to fourth-year Spanish major and Latine College Day conference lead Erik Magana.
“UCSB continues to be a predominantly white institution, but at the time of the inception of this conference, the Latinx population was much lower than it is now … so the outreach from the university standpoint was not occurring,” Magana said.
The conference was held in person this year for the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
El Congreso de UCSB is a student-led cultural, social and activist organization that works to provide an inclusive space for students of marginalized identities. There were 24 members of El Congreso who volunteered for the event.
The conference hosted students from Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, who were all provided bus transportation funded by El Congreso and sponsors. The theme this year was “El Mundo Es Tuyo,” or “The World is Yours,” which resonated in all events throughout the conference.
“We really wanted to go back to this mindset of not just resistance and resilience but also self-care, community,” Magana said. “Even in an exclusionary world, students do have room as people to enact change, to be themselves, to grow as individuals, to find their footing.”
The keynote speaker was Chicana and Chicano studies department assistant professor Micaela Díaz-Sánchez, who spoke about her personal experiences and “taking the world into her own hands,” Magana said.
“She did a really good job presenting her personal narrative to the audience … and her message about how we shouldn’t give up and make sure we’re putting in that effort and achieving our goals that we have in the present, future and beyond,” first-year Chicana and Chicano studies major and El Congreso member Axel Valencia Alvarez said.
After the keynote, Office of Admissions School Services Associate Director Cuca Acosta presented on UCSB admissions and financial aid, and attendees could choose from 18 workshops, including an El Congreso Activist tour, leadership as an immigrant, history of Palestinian and Latin American solidarity, lessons on Mitotiliztli — a traditional Aztec dance — and a support space for LGBTQIA+ students.
Valencia Alvarez highlighted the activist tour as one of his favorite workshops of the day, saying it provided the middle and high school attendees an understanding of student activism at UCSB and El Congreso’s historic work as an organization.
“It gave the students an opportunity to understand student activism at UCSB and why students are the main leaders on our campus,” he said.
A support space for LGBTQIA+ students was held at the conference for the first time in two years, borne out of collaboration between El Congreso and the Resource Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity (RCSGD) — UCSB’s LGBTQIA+ resource and support center.
Fourth-year environmental studies major Richie Montes Lemus said the workshop had an intentionally informal setting to create a welcoming space for the middle and high school LGBTQIA+ students.
“We started them with some tea to calm their nerves and created a safe space where they felt comfortable enough to really ask the questions that they wanted,” he said. “We also figured that they’ve probably seen a lot of structured talks throughout the day, so we wanted to give them a break from that.”
Topics ranged from exploring sexualities to Queer relationships and self-care. Montes Lemus said the workshop fed the greater mission of RCSGD in creating safe spaces for authenticity and comfort.
“We want to have a campus and university where all groups can feel heard and seen and represented, and we need to have these types of workshops at the forefront so that they can feel comfortable enough in knowing that there’s a space for them on campus,” they said.
The presentations and workshops were followed by the inspirational speaker, California State University, Fullerton associate professor of sociology Edwin Lopez, who spoke about resiliency in an exclusionary world.
El Congreso invited Los So-Lows — a modern soul band from Oxnard, California — back to the conference for the second year in a row. Magana emphasized the importance of providing live entertainment during the annual Latine College Day, saying many of the attendees often cannot afford to see such performances.
“Most students are not exposed to live entertainment because it costs a lot of money to go out to see bands or because they’re too young,” he said. “We really just want to bring local entertainment, local groups, to expose them to some good music and to have a good time.”
Magana spoke of his personal connection to Latine College Day, saying that attending the conference in high school sparked his inspiration for student activism and joining El Congreso.
“I’ve attended this conference since my sophomore year of high school … and I felt how empowering it was to have that support from student organizers in college,” he said. “Coming into UCSB, attending this conference was one of the reasons why I sought out El Congreso first as an organization and why organizing this conference became personally important to me.”
Magana said the conference is a significant part of El Congreso’s greater mission of community advocacy for marginalized groups at and outside of UCSB.
“We know that the institution is exclusionary, and we know that the university gives very little platform for our organization to organize in a way that is truly supported, so we build the spaces ourselves,” he said.
“This conference is an example of why those needs to be met because otherwise, the 300 kids that were sitting in this room won’t have the resources that we’re advocating for,” Magana continued. “It’s not just our campus community — it’s our neighboring communities and the students that may or may not end up attending UCSB.”
Magana expressed pride and gratitude for the success of this year’s Latine College Day, saying this year set a precedent for more conferences like this in years to come.
“As someone who’s graduating, I’m really proud of the work that has been done to revive this conference,” he said. “This conference is critical to the continuation of El Congreso and the growth of students we work with.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the May 4, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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