More than 200 high school students visited the Tempe campus Friday to attend Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan’s annual youth conference, which aims to encourage them to pursue higher education and feel proud of their heritage and culture.
The student-led M.E.Ch.A. frequently organizes political, cultural and traditional activities.
Elementary education sophomore Karina Arroyo has been involved with M.E.Ch.A. for a year and co-chaired the conference.
“The youth conference is a way to inform students about education (and) the issues going on in our community,” she said. “It’s about empowering them and letting them know they can do things that most people would think impossible just because we are minorities.”
The students came from different schools in Phoenix Union High School District.
Transborder studies senior Tony Verdugo, who co-chaired the event, said the workshops helped the students face their educational barriers.
“The students seem to like it,” he said. “They liked the keynote speakers, and hopefully they’ll like the workshops.”
Learning about their background and roots will be the best thing they take from the experience, Arroyo said.
“A lot of what they’re learning today is not being taught at their schools, which is really sad,” she said. “This will make them believe in who they are.”
The students will see that being Chicano or Latino does not stop them from attaining a better education, Arroyo said.
Verdugo said he hopes the students will take something from the conference.
“Hopefully, they’ll learn that high school is not the last stop,” he said. “We try to show them … that we are just like them (and) came from the same places as them.”
The students are encouraged to join the organization if they decide to attend ASU.
“For me, (M.E.Ch.A.) is more about finding a comfort zone in the University,” Arroyo said. “It’s about building that familia and being able to learn from them and constructing yourself.”
During lunch time, the students sat on the lawn outside the Student Services building, listening to music and getting to know each other.
Two blank canvasses where set up so they could spray-paint them. By the end, they read: “Say yes to education, not deportation.”
The students watched performers of Mexican traditional dances after eating.
Nancy Godoy, curator librarian of the Chicano research collection, taught one of the workshops. She is also M.E.Ch.A.’s adviser at the Downtown campus.
Godoy said she wanted to reach the generation that potentially will come to ASU and show them the resources that are available.
The collection is very important to Arizona’s history, she said.
“We preserve Mexican and Mexican-American history,” Godoy said. “My main goal is to meet the research needs of the ASU community, but I also try to reach out to … future students.”
The students were very receptive of her presentation, Godoy said.
“I like my job because I’m helping students have pride in who they are,” she said. “A lot of (the kids) were into it because it’s history about themselves.”
President of Professional Staff Association at Maricopa Community Colleges Cecilia Quiroz was one of the conference’s keynote speakers.
She told the students about the hardships of her upbringing and how she overcame them.
“Obstacles are going to remain,” she said. “Everything that I’ve had had in my life has been an obstacle (and) a lesson.”
The Latino community is very united, Quiroz said.
“Why did nothing stop me?” she said. “I was raised by a village … my single mom had support.”
Yasmin Landeros and Jorge Balderas are seniors in Carl Hayden High School. They have both been accepted to ASU.
Landeros wants to major in childhood education and Balderas in engineering.
“One of the workshops I went to was learning about the Aztec language, which is called Nahuatl,” Balderas said. “I think it’s very important to learn about our roots and where we came from.”
Balderas plans to join M.E.Ch.A. when he goes to ASU.
The conference was very interesting, Landeros said.
“I learned so much today,” she said.
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