A weekend of discussion, debate and dance brought together Latino undergraduate and graduate students from colleges across the East Coast in celebration of their common identity.

Sponsored by the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a group affiliated with La Casa Cultural, the East Coast Chicano Student Forum held lectures and presentations from Thursday to Saturday evening. The conference culminated in a formal dance thrown Saturday by the brothers of La Unidad Latina Fraternity.

The ECCSF hosts forums four times each year on various East Coast college campuses. The conferences are organized by student-run Latino organizations like MEChA with the aim of fostering a sense of Chicano community through discussions of politics, identity and culture.

“It is great to see everybody at the conference interacting and enjoying themselves,” MEChA member Julie Gonzales ’05 said. “You can really see our community coming together and having fun, but also with a sense of purpose.”

The conference, titled “How are Chicana/os Affected by Latino Identity?” began Thursday with a lecture by Edward Escobar, a professor of Chicano studies and history at Arizona State University, about the past accomplishments and future promise of the Chicano community.

On Friday, La Casa Cultural hosted a screening of “Real Women Have Curves,” followed by a night of salsa dancing in the Davenport Dining Hall, featuring the band Sonido Unidad.

Saturday opened with a student-facilitated discussion on identity, race and labels called “Confronting Identity.” MEChA members presented the topics and then opened up the talk to the audience. Later that afternoon, a panel of four Yale students and graduates spoke about the role of a Latino identity in politics, community and the media followed by a question and answer session.

Gonzales said the discussions were “really productive.”

“Lots of people opened up and shared their personal stories,” she said.

Manuel Berrelez ’00 LAW ’05, one-time president of La Unidad Latina and a leading member of MEChA for four years, also spoke to students at the conference Friday, focusing on Texas’ Ten Percent Plan and his opinion that it enforces segregation in the public school system and denies minorities of a chance at obtaining better education.

The weekend concluded Saturday with the biggest and most highly anticipated annual Latino Yale event, La Noche Dorada. About 300 people attended the formal celebration at Lo Ricco Ballroom, including not only participants in the conference but also students unaffiliated with the cultural group who said they just wanted to enjoy a night of good food, an open bar and dancing.

Columbia University and Bronx Community College history professor Carlos Sanabria, who specializes in Latino studies, delivered a speech before the dance. Sanabria discussed stereotypes about Latinos in America and his opinion that many Latino contributions to society have gone unrecognized. He commended the dedication of the students at the conference for their contributions to the Latino community.

The speech was followed by a salsa group performance and then a mad rush to the dance floor as it opened up to an enthusiastic crowd for the rest of the night.

Students from visiting schools said they found the entire weekend both productive and enjoyable.

“I find it very important to visit other colleges and Latino organizations and to communicate with them and collaborate to form new ideas,” Columbia graduate student Aaron Velez said. “I met a lot of great people this weekend.”

Brenda Ramirez, a junior at Smith, said conference organizers accomplished their mission.

“It was nice to see a huge number of Latino students in one place discussing important issues and getting to know each other,” she said.

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