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La Educacion Hispanico

A student organization that offers salsa lessons, movie nights, food festivals and lectures with renowned professors and ambassadors -- it certainly sounds like quite an extra curricular. All you have to do is join the Latino Student Union which is doing all of this as part of Hispanic heritage month in order to build Latino student unity and educate University students.

As one of 10 Hispanic/Latino Student Organizations, LSU is part of the umbrella working group, La Alianza. Phoebe Haupt, University coordinator for Latino student programs, leads La Alianza, a group that brings together leaders of each Hispanic/Latino organization at the University to facilitate communication, exchange and collaboration of ideas.

So what is all the fuss about Hispanic heritage month? As a nationally recognized celebration, heritage month began Sept. 15. In order to allow more time for organization, LSU decided to push the event back and use all of October. Haupt said she coordinated the event through the Office of Student Life in the past but decided to hand over most of the responsibility to LSU this year, giving students more opportunities for leadership in the community.

The idea behind the occasion is twofold: first, to educate the larger University community, and second, and more significantly, "to reaffirm these Latino students' culture at a university that is not attended by a very heterogeneous crowd," Haupt said.

Leonardo Jimenez, a second-year College student, representative for La Casa Bolivar and Social Chair for LSU, reiterated these two dimensions.

"The purpose and the imperative goal of heritage month is not only Latino/ Hispanic awareness among the U.Va. community, but also a celebration of Latino American culture," Jimenez said.

This celebration includes both social and academic events. Examples of activities have included a lecture by Rolena Adorno, a Yale University anthropology professor, who spoke Oct. 15. "Real Women Have Curves" was played as part of a movie night Oct. 19, which also included an education program discussing Latino trends at the University and the future of Latinos in higher education.

Heritage month's featured event, a talk with United States ambassadors from Peru, Argentina and Brazil, will take place Oct. 22 and will include each ambassador's agenda for the year, discussions between ambassadors and the moderator, Politics Prof. David Jordan, and a question and answer session. In addition, LSU has arranged for the ambassadors to take a tour of Grounds and Monticello, as well as take part in another LSU event, Culture Fest. Culture Fest will include a scavenger hunt themed "Eight Paths to En'latin'ment" as well as cultural foods and a fashion show.

Although the heritage month celebration is LSU's primary focus, LSU helps to coordinate many other events with other organizations in La Alianza. This month, La Alianza is sponsoring the Bolivar Network Meeting. This meeting occurs once per semester and allows Latino students to pair up with a group of Latino American University alumni in specific career paths. The group of alumni helps students network for jobs and internships in addition to providing financial help in the form of grants and scholarships.

Haupt explained the importance of these Latino American Student Organizations on Grounds. Latino Americans represent around 4 percent of the student body (less than the population of students coming from Northern Virginia), and these organizations help support them.

Coming to the University can also be a shock for these students, some of whom come to the University straight off of a plane. Others have immigrated to the United States at some point during their lifetime and still find University community values to be quite different from their own, Haupt said.

"Coming to the University, many Latino students feel isolated and out of place," she said. "We try to help these students find each other."

Further, the organizations welcome anyone who's looking for a little Latin blood. LSU President Angie Ferrero said the organization welcomes everyone.

"The goal from the beginning was to keep it open, completely inclusive," Ferrero said. "Latinos who aren't members can still come to meetings, even non-Latinos. There are a lot of people who speak Spanish and just want to practice or have an interest in Latin America or maybe have just lived there for a little while."

Integrating diverse groups without appearing superficial can pose a challenge, but Ferrero said the group can overcome that obstacle.

"You have to find common interests," she said. "You can't just throw people together. You can't force it, but then again, if you don't put in any effort, it won't happen. It's difficult, but common interests are what bring people together."

Ferrero also was adamant that she did not feel she could represent all Latinos. As a citizen of Peru, Ferrero said she has seen very little of the rest of Latin America, and this was part of the reason she began attending LSU meetings in her first year.

"It's diversity and unity at the same time," she said. "As individual countries, we are different but similar. We deal with similar issues -- poverty, establishing democracy, etc."

Once heritage month has passed and things quiet down a bit, Ferrero said she plans to work more on relations among members.

"I want to get members to have fun together and build 'familia,'" Ferrero said. This could include cosponsored parties with Latino and non-Latino organizations.

As for whether or not LSU will ever become an umbrella organization, Ferrero, who spends at least two hours a day devoted to the group, said she hopes it doesn't happen.

"I prefer that each organization has its own, totally independent voice, while LSU can provide resources and a good link to the greater University, since our purpose is the most general," she said.