After 30 years of development, the Latino community at Yale is reaching a major milestone this weekend with a move toward organizing alumni on a national scale.
An interim National Latino Alumni Board, consisting of 12 former Yale undergraduates from around the country, will be meeting in New Haven on Saturday to discuss the organization of the growing Yale Latino alumni community. At the meeting, the interim board members hope to establish the ground work for a national association of Yale Latino alumni. Assistant Dean of Yale College Rosalinda Garcia, director of La Casa Cultural, said in addition to uniting the more than 3,000 Latino graduates, such an organization would provide tangible benefits for Latinos on campus.
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Garcia said in speaking to alumni, it is apparent to her that “one of their biggest interests is to connect to the undergraduates — they remember it being tough, and now that they are in a position to help, they want to know what they can do.”
The structure and size of the Latino community at Yale have changed significantly over the past 30 years, she said. The first two Latino organizations founded at Yale were Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MeChA, in 1969 and Despierta Boricua in 1972, which are Mexican-American and Puerto Rican student organizations, respectively.
Development in the early years of the Latino community was centered almost solely on these two ethnic groups. La Casa Boricua, a Puerto Rican cultural center, was founded in 1974. In the 1980s another building was dedicated to serve the Chicano cultural center, which shared the premises with the Asian American and Native American cultural centers.
Marco Davis ’93, an interim board member who served as an elected moderator of MeChA during his time at Yale, said he thinks the policies of the Yale Admissions Office were responsible for this limited categorization — Latino students were left with the choice of identifying as Puerto Rican, Mexican-American or other.
“The community was technically fragmented based on these limited admissions-office definitions [of Latino],” he said.
Garcia said early alumni networks developed along the same lines, with the creation of both the Yale Chicano Alumni Association and the Yale Puerto Rican Alumni Association in the early 1990s. Latinos who did not identify as Puerto Rican or Chicano were left without support systems, Davis said.
In 1999, student lobbying led to the creation of La Casa Cultural, which assimilated the Puerto Rican and Chicano centers and now serves as an umbrella organization for all Latino student groups.
Garcia said it was at this time that the national Latino alumni movement began to gain momentum, with the creation of several regional associations, as well as an annual La Casa alumni reception with the support of the Association of Yale Alumni.
“I have been working on and envisioning this since my first week here,” said Garcia, who has served in her current post since 2002.
Davis said he has been working towards the same goal since 2001, when he created a Yahoo! Group entitled “Yale Latinos” as a way for alumni to informally stay in touch. The group now has 350 members. In 2003, with help from the Association of Yale Alumni and in collaboration with other interested alumni, David sent out a letter to all of the known Latino alumni asking them to register with La Casa Cultural and received over 300 responses.
In 2006, Garcia and Danny Acosta ’97, a New York alumnus who had been involved with MeChA, spearheaded work that resulted in the creation of the Yale Latino Alumni Association of the Tri-State Area. The association resulted from the creation of interim and then permanent boards, which Garcia said is the strategy now being pursued to create a national alumni association.
Garcia said she chose the 12 members of the interim board meeting tomorrow because of their previous involvement in Latino life at Yale, as well as for their diversity, both geographically and by class year. The board members are from the East and West coasts, as well as Texas, and include three former cultural center directors.
The board includes Yalina Disla ’07, two members of the class of 1976 and several alumni who attended Yale in the intervening years. The board and Dean Garcia have been aided in this effort to create a national alumni association by the Asian-American community, which is developing its alumni association in a parallel fashion, as well as Yale GALA, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender alumni network, Garcia said.
Cassie Rodriguez ’08, who is working with La Casa to coordinate Latino Heritage Month events, said she is excited by the opportunity to continue her involvement with the Latino community.
“[An organized alumni community] is something to look forward to in the future,” she said.
Interim board member Billie Gastic ’98 said he thinks this weekend’s meeting is momentous.
“This has been a long time coming and is the result of generations of hard work and commitment,” she said. “We have a very strong and active alumni community, and [this board] is an opportunity to ensure that Latino alumni are seen and heard at Yale.”
Board members will also serve on a “Life After Yale” panel for the Latino community following tomorrow’s meeting.