Latino heritage binds Elis, locals

More than 30 years ago, members of the Latino community in the New Haven area strived to make the first Latino students at Yale feel comfortable in their new home. The bond that formed between Yalies and the local Latino community, though less intimate today, has nevertheless lasted through the years — a fact that may become more apparent in the upcoming weeks as the two groups celebrate Latino heritage together.

The Latino Cultural Center and its affiliated student organizations, working in collaboration with the city’s Latino community, will offer a diverse array of events to celebrate Latino Heritage Month. Events ranging from cooking lessons to panel discussions about ethnic identity will aim not only to celebrate the historical role of Latinos in the United States but also to give non-Latino students opportunities to explore the culture, event organizers said.

The month-long program kicked off Sept. 15 with a Latino student retreat to a nearby beach town. It will conclude Oct. 22 with a Trumbull Master’s Tea with Carlos Moreno ’70, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California and one of the first Mexican-American graduates of the University.

On Oct. 9, Alianza will host a talk on cultural identity entitled “How Latino Am I?: Issues of Latino Identity in a Contemporary Context.” Alianza President Jonathan Jimenez ’09 said he hopes the dialogue will help students think about their cultures independently of any stereotypes imposed by society.

Tuesday evening, students gathered at the La Casa Cultural House on Crown St. to mingle with members of the New Haven greater community and munch on pastries.

Rosalinda Garcia, associate dean of Yale College and director of the Latino Cultural Center, said during the meet-and-greet that Yale and Latinos in the Elm City have a long history together. The relationship was born when the community reached out to the first Latino students in the college and helped them to lobby the University for a cultural center, she said.

“It’s because of the Latino community that we have all of this here today,” she said, referring to the center that is now home to 12 student organizations, such as the Chicano group MEChA and the pan-Latino group Alianza.

The meet-and-greet was established last year but occurred on a far smaller scale last time, said Woodbridge Fellow of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Ricardo Sandoval ’06, who helped plan Tuesday evening’s event.

Local residents commented Tuesday on the rapid growth of the Latino constituency in the University over the past decades.

Rafael Ovcaric, who graduated from the University of New Haven in 1984 and has been attending events at the cultural center for more than 20 years, said he has been pleased to see the Yale Latino population diversify since he first began visiting campus.

“Before it was mostly just Puerto Ricans,” said Ovcaric, who emigrated from Venezuela to attend college. “Now, there are more Hispanics, and it’s more of a mixture.”

His wife Ligia, who also emigrated from Venezuela to attend UNH and is now a psychiatric social worker, said the couple is always happy to met with undergraduates and discuss cultural topics with them.

“We’d always like to be more involved,” she said.

The Ovcarics said they hope to attend at least some of the other events in the upcoming weeks.

Other Latino Heritage Month events scheduled through Oct. 22 include a lecture about Mexican-American lawyering, a Latino cooking lesson with a local arts and culture organization, a night of poetry reading, singing and dancing hosted by the Latin American Students Association, and a traditional quinceanera.

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