Art by Leah Bae
The Latino/a/x Student Alliance is an organization for Pepperdine students to share and embrace their culture while connecting with a unique campus community. The club is focusing on bringing new and old members closer together this semester through a variety of ways, including creating small groups within the club for members to connect more easily.
Senior Co-presidents Amy Zelaya and Priscilla Merlo are striving to adjust the club to a virtual format for the fall 2020 semester. They said this fall, the 150-member club is hosting their first essay contest for Latinx Pepperdine students to help bring the Latinx community together. This contest is for students to illuminate their heritage through writing. Zelaya and Merlo said they want all members to feel welcome and comfortable.
“LSA is open to anyone — to those belonging in the Latinx community and those who don’t belong in the Latinx community,” Zelaya said. “We hope that we can spread our culture and ideas as well and have a good time together.”
New Virtual Format
During a regular school year, the LSA would host in-person meetings and events on campus. Now, it hosts online bi-weekly meetings over Zoom on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. On weeks without a club-wide meeting, members meet in five separate small groups, which executive board members lead.
Zelaya and Merlo both created the small groups so the club would work better virtually. Zelaya said each small group has a different theme to target the different interests of club members. Members can choose which small group to attend.
“This gives a better chance for members to be able to form that intimate connection with other members with the interests that they like,” Zelaya said.
One small group is named Voluntarias del Corazón, or Volunteers of the Heart. Zelaya said it is designed for members who are looking to volunteer and provides online resources and service opportunities. The second group is called Chismes Políticos, or Political Gossip, and students in this group talk about current political issues in the Latinx community.
Another small group is called Literario Revolucionario, or Revolutionary Literature. Zelaya said this group is a safe space to talk and learn more about Latinx authors. There is also Latinos Athleticos, Athletic Latinos, which is targeted toward members who are interested in sports. Members can watch sports games or even work out together online.
Merlo, who was co-president last year, said she enjoys having creative freedom. She pays attention to what people may be struggling with and tries to talk about these struggles in ways that bring healing to members of the club.
“I enjoy the work — having the ideas and then seeing the ideas basically bear fruit,” Merlo said.
This year, junior Moises Vargas is on the e-board as the media chair. He is also one of the leaders of Círculo Espiritual, or Spiritual Circle. This small group is for students to come for prayer and healing and to talk about faith and spirituality.
“We’re Latinos, and we come from a specific background and specific values, and it’s really important to maintain this spirituality so we can make sure we have good mental health as we’re going into this online transition,” Vargas said.
To make the LSA community more close-knit, Vargas said the club creates “big” and “little” assignments for members. Senior and junior leaders are assigned to a new member to help them navigate Pepperdine.
“It’s a way to have someone that you can directly talk to and become close to so that you don’t have to feel like every single time you enter the space, you have to talk to someone different,” Vargas said. “You can always have that one person to rely on.”
Past and Future Events
Junior Isabella Mendoza is on the e-board this year as the vice president of external affairs. She said the LSA hosts many events throughout the semester to bring members and other clubs together.
One popular LSA event is Carne Asada de la Independencia, which celebrates the various independence days of Latino countries. First-year students enjoyed traditional food of the Latino culture, and members encouraged them to sign up for the club. There are no current plans to translate events like these online yet.
Another event is the Baila Conmigo Dance, which the LSA hosts with the Black Student Association. The club incorporates a fundraiser component as well and chooses a different organization to spread awareness and raise money for each dance.
Even though the LSA’s in-person events have been put on hold this semester, Mendoza said she is still planning events for the club. She wants to coordinate interaction with the outside Latinx community, including volunteer opportunities through high schools. She also wants to plan a guest speaker, such as an immigration lawyer, to come and speak at a meeting as well.
Mendoza said she is able to see the bright side of the virtual format because the club is now more accessible to students. It is easier for speakers to come and for students to tune into meetings from their laptops instead of coming to campus.
“We’ve been able to have a larger turnout,” Mendoza said. “But I guess the sacrifice with that is the community aspect we really work on so much is harder because we’re not seeing each other face to face.”
Celeste Benitez is the spiritual chair on the e-board and also leads the Círculo Espiritual small group with Vargas. She said the LSA used to be very centralized around Mexican heritage rather than all the other beautiful Latin countries. She felt this changed when the LSA changed its name from the Latino Student Association to the Latino Student Alliance.
“You get to learn about so many different beautiful cultures, and I think that’s something that’s very valuable that I really like,” Benitez said.
Almost all LSA members interviewed said they feel a deep sense of community within the club.
Junior Anahi Casas Perez is the financial chair on the e-board. Since Pepperdine is a predominately white campus, she said it is important for members of the Latinx community to be proud of their heritage.
“I think it’s very easy to lose your way when you are not encouraged by other people that look like you and have those same experiences,” Casas Perez said. “It’s very easy to try and hide that and cover up your heritage and try not to be proud of it.”
Casas Perez is a leader of the Chismes Políticos small group. She said because politics have become so polarized, this group pokes fun at politics while still becoming educated on current events.
“What we’re really hoping to do is gear it toward political issues that anyone wants to talk about that either affect the Latino community or other minorities and how we can be allies,” Casas Perez said.
Merlo said it is important for Latinx students to join the LSA to celebrate what makes their ancestry unique.
“It’s so extremely vital to have a space like that on campus where folks can come and not have to justify themselves or overextend themselves and feel like they can have brothers and sisters or family around them,” Merlo said.
Voicing Hispanic Heritage
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the LSA is holding a Speak Your Heritage essay competition that ends Oct. 11. This opportunity provides Latinx students to share their heritage through the reflection of cultural identity. The first-place winner will win a $100 gift basket and a certificate of excellence. The LSA partnered with the Graphic, and the winning essay will be published online.
“We wanted to open up a safe space where students can proudly display their culture and create sympathy toward the Latinx community and solidarity for the diversity of our culture,” Zelaya said.
Contact Sofia Longo via Twitter: @sofialongo_ or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org