Celebrating 50 years of Latinos at Yale
Fifty years ago, when Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) de Yale was first founded, its focus was largely inward-facing, says Fernando Torres ’19 B.A., MEChA member and former co-moderator. MEChA’s current co-moderators are Cinthia Zavala Ramos ’21 B.A. and Emily Almendarez ’20 B.A. The early Latinx community at Yale was interested in creating cohesion among the various Latin populations on campus and with establishing La Casa Cultural Center.
La Casa — a home for Yale’s Latinx students — serves as the gathering place for 15 undergraduate student groups, including MEChA, Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Yale, and Latina Women at Yale, as well as six graduate student groups, including the Latinx Graduate Student Network and the Latino Law Student Association. Student leaders held town hall meetings in 1999 to discuss the need for resources and drafted a proposal for Latinx student unification that served as the basis for La Casa.
“The activism used to be about getting the Latino voice out there,” says Torres. “Now, it’s intersectional.”
Today’s MEChA is focused outward, he says. The group’s members often support New Haven community social justice organizations like Unidad Latina en Accion and Junta. Last summer, students in MEChA joined rallies at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church where undocumented resident and father of three Nelson Pinos Gonzalez took sanctuary when he faced deportation. Gonzalez has been living at the church since November 2017 and has a pending request with an immigration court to reopen his case. “Our goal was to bring more attention to his situation and to make sure people on campus know what is going on,” says Torres.
Torres came to Yale from Bakersfield, California, but though his high school had a chapter of MEChA, it was not until he came to campus that he got involved in the organization. “I was homesick,” he says. “And MEChA was a place to go to meet people who came from a similar background.”
This weekend, La Casa Cultural is celebrating “50 Years of Latinos at Yale: Making It Nuestra Casa,” with meet-and-greets, campus tours, panels on addressing immigration and what it means to be Latino, and keynote talks from luminaries like Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, and Carlos Moreno ’70 B.A., Mexican-American jurist and one of the founding members of MEChA.
“This event helps us connect to our past and is a motivator for how to be more inclusive and spread the word,” Torres says.