Club Spotlight Event: Dia de la Raza

Three organizations at Skyline College hosted a special event to celebrate Dia de la Raza on Oct. 12, in honor of Hispanic heritage and culture.

Traditionally known to Americans as Christopher Columbus Day, or Day of the Indigenous, this day is celebrated in Mexico and in Latin American countries as Dia de la Raza, which translates from it’s Spanish derivative to: Day of the Race.

The Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Em-Powering Ourselves to Demand Educational Rights (PODER) and the Hermanos Club came together with the purpose to inform the Skyline community about Christopher Columbus and the role that he played in the occupation of the Americas, as well as to fundraise to create more scholarships for students who are AB 540-undocumented immigrants that are in need of educational assistance.

“Dia de la Raza’s success was because of the three groups, and how well we were able to come together” said Astrid Berrios, president of LASO. “We were able to put on a bigger production then only one of the clubs could have been able to do. I have a great team behind me, an awesome cabinet, as well as general members that are really dedicated and willing to help.”

The entertainment, arranged by the Hermanos Club, included music from Dj Sho Boy from the radio station La Kalle 105.7FM, and traditional Mexican folk dancing, by Ballet Folklorico Alma de Mexico of So. San Francisco High School and Community, which was volunteer based-in the spirit of the cause.

“A number of our members either dance, or danced with the group during and prior to high school, including myself” said Jorge Murillo, the vice president of Hermanos Club. “The dancers were friends of ours who volunteered their time to put on a ‘mini’ show for Dia de la Raza.”

The total proceeds gained from selling the food provided by LASO, which consisted of tamales, beans, and rice, is going to help fund a future concert expected to take place in the spring of 2010. The event will be sponsored by LASO, and is another way for their club to fundraise scholarship money for AB 540 students.

AB 540, otherwise known as Assembly Bill 540, is the official term for students who are illegally in the country. The California government mandated the assembly bill in 2001, allowing undocumented students who have completed at least three years of high school in California, to pay decreased public university and college tuition fees. These students do not qualify for financial aid because of their immigrant status.

“What is important about this is that there are a lot of students-Skyline students-who didn’t make that decision,” said Yoshi Mendez, president of PODER. “And, they struggle trying to get into a four-year university because it’s expensive, and they don’t have the money.”

Raising community awareness about scholarships for AB 540 students is something that Mendez and Berrios feel strongly about. The scholarships that are out there-few as there may be for AB 540-are especially hard for students to find. With the assistance of PODER, students can gain access to the resources that are available to them, as well obtain guidance in mitigating the process.

“The problem is that there is a limited amount of scholarships for AB 540 students” said Berrios. “It’s like supply and demand, there’s not enough scholarships available for the amount of students that need the help.”

Another problem that they are currently facing is the fact that a lot of AB 540 students are intimidated or scared to identify themselves as undocumented immigrants. This has posed further issues for Mendez because only a few students have yet to identify themselves as being in this position. Low club representation is effecting the PODER organization, enabling its ability to function accordingly.

“I really want PODER to happen…because it’s a good cause and it’s a good club-but I need people,” said Mendez. “But, if people don’t do something about it, then how is the government going to know that they’re out there? It’s important for them to know that it’s better for them to be visible than invisible, because if we don’t know about you, how are we going to help you.”

Fighting for the educational rights of these undocumented students is one of the main reasons that Mendez wanted to re-activate the organization after two years of dormancy. Mendez is also a member of Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC) serving as the only representative from Skyline College. She is one of 19 ambassadors in the Bay Area advocating for the rights of immigrant students.

“I do want to put out there that the California DREAM Act [The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act] is going to help these students get papers, and become residents and citizens” said Mendez.

On Nov. 19, PODER is panning to host a special event called, “Dream it, Achieve it” in which a number of AB 540 students from U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Clara, U.C. Santa Cruz, and Stanford will act as representatives to provide moral support and further information about the rights of AB 540 students to attend four-year universities in California. They will also be showing the documentary titled, Don’t Stop Me Now-undocumented students in college, which depicts some of the struggles that many undocumented students endure.

Having a difficult time finding an organization that we can identify with, or a club that reflects our personal interests is a common thread that links many students throughout our campus. Noah Brown, LASO’s treasurer, has a similar story in which he stumbled upon community activism by chance.

“I’m from east Oakland, and the community that I grew up in was pretty much predominantly Latinos” said Brown. “So, when I came to Skyline, I didn’t think I really related to anyone…but one of the places I did connect with people, was in the Puente Program. And from Puente, I linked on with L.A.S.O.”

These three clubs have also made a positive impact in local communites beyond the Skyline campus. Brown and Berrios are ambassadors for the non-profit organization, Latino National Education Services and Centers (LNESC) where they volunteer their time to mentor kids from T.R. Pollicita Middle School and Susan B. Anthony Elementary. They also serve on the advisory board for the affiliate mentoring program, Mentoring Opens Doors for Emerging Leaders (MODEL).

“I think the main thing is that it’s not for us, it’s for the kids,” said Brown. “We just try to give back in some way.” Berrios adds, “It’s about raising the awareness of the importance of education.”

The Hermanos Club is also active in the community, particularly invested in the Hermanitos After School Program at Parkway Heights Middle School and the Boys and Girls Club of Paradise Valley. The club has provided male Latino students in the 8th grade with two years of mentorship, with Sthiv Valencia and Jorge Murillo, the respective Hermanos club president and vice president, serving as the directors of the program.

“As students who attended this middle school, we know that Latino male students are rarely introduced or spoken to about higher education” said Murillo. “So we want these young men to start thinking about their future and help them overcome the academic struggle that they face right now, and are going to face in their future.”

Investing time with an organization or a cause requires not only commitment but a sense of diligence. Naturally, when people are passionate about the clubs that they represent, they are more often inclined to stay committed and to gain a sense of fellowship among their peers. It is evident that the leaders of PODER, LASO, and the Hermanos Club are moving in the right direction. This particular event, Dia de la Raza, was a display of their communal connection and ability to collaborate for a singular purpose.

“It was great to have everyone out there not only representing their clubs, but bonding with each other as a giant family” said Murillo. “A lot of Hermanos, PODER, and LASO members come from different communities and backgrounds, and I think that for everyone to come together for an event like this says a lot. Not all members are Latinos nor have to be, so I encourage anyone and everyone who is interested, to join one or all clubs.”

If you are interested in becoming a MODEL mentor, visit their website at www.modelmentoring.org.

To learn more about Assembly Bill 540, Visit the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund’s (MALDEF) website at http://maldef.org/education/public_policy/ab540.

For more information about the California DREAM Act, visit the Immigration Law Center’s website at www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/DREAM/index.htm.