The Latinx Student Alliance and Latinx Leadership Council kicked off the first ever Latinx Alumni Weekend last Friday by commemorating the launch of a historical website, which documents the development of Hispanic and Latinx student groups at the University. The website provides a directory that contains links to an explanation of each organization’s mission, history and work on Grounds. Natalia Heguaburo, a fourth-year College student and LSA historian, led the project and said it will act as “a living repository” to serve generations of students with a more accurate and representative history.
Heguaburo said she was inspired to explore this history when she found a “disheartening” lack of information about Latinx student groups in the University’s Special Collections Library archives. Instead, Heguaburo connected with alumni and compiled much of the information on the site through interviews and any materials that had been saved over the years.
For example, Heguaburo said she learned from her own research that the history of the LSA dates back to its creation in 1992 under its original name — La Sociedad Hispánica. The LSA website lists its founding year as 2009, which Heguaburo attributes to the fact that the group underwent mergers and name changes, which resulted in files and history being lost and misinterpreted. When Heguaburo looked for information in the University archives, she found only a single folder of documents relating to any Latinx and Hispanic student groups.
“For a group that has struggled and succeeded, as well as contributed to the make up of this University so much so, to only have one folder was extremely disheartening,” Heguaburo said. “So I came up with this idea … because it’s quite evident that our history is not going to be recorded properly or accurately without our help.”
Heguaburo said that Gina Flores, a graduate of the College from the Class of 2000, was one alumna who was especially helpful throughout the project. Flores was in Charlottesville for the alumni events and spoke at Friday’s website launch party. She reflected on the lack of Latinx representation in the winter 2018 issue of the Virginia magazine.
Flores said that the notable alumni section of the commemorative bicentennial edition did not adequately acknowledge Latinx history at the University in the past 200 years, as she noted that there was not even mention of Simon Bolivar — the Venezuelan military and political leader who led the liberation of Latin American countries from the Spanish empire in the early 19th century and enrolled in the University in 1822. Flores mentioned that the magazine did recognize Juan Torruella, who graduated from the Law School in 1984 and serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“I really am touched by your words because in the winter I received my alumni magazine, and it was the bicentennial and kind of commemorative, and they were very upfront, and they were like, ‘This is not perfect,’” Flores said. “There was only one mention of Latinidad in this publication, and I looked at the online version. I did an online search, and there was only one mention.”
Although progress has been made in the representation of the Latinx community at the University — with 17 organizations being documented on the archival site — Flores urged students to consider how they want to shape their legacy here at the University.
The timeline of Hispanic/Latinx organizations at the University begins in 1992 with the creation of LSA under its original name — La Sociedad Hispánica. In 1997, Bolivar Network was formed to create an alumni and networking base, and the organization provides La Bolivar Network Book Scholarship for leaders in the University’s Latinx community. Bolivar Network was named for the Bolivar family — Fernando Bolivar’s nephew, Simon, attended the University in 1827, demonstrating early connections between the University’s history and the Latinx community.
The Omega Phi Beta and La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda were formed in 1998 and 1999, respectively. The Hispanic/Latinx Peer Mentoring Program, which facilitates relationships between new and returning undergraduate students, was also created in 1999. Since the year 2000, 12 other student groups dedicated to aspects of the Latinx culture and community were established for a range of specific interests, such as for the Engineering and Batten academic schools, cultural activities and the promotion of unity, leadership and political involvement.
In October 2018, Latinx students and organizations addressed an open letter to the University community calling for institutional support and inclusion on Grounds. The letter noted that the Latinx population comprises six percent of the student body and only 24 faculty members in the College — with fewer than 10 working outside of language departments. The letter also used the University’s Bicentennial celebration slogan, #OursToShape, when calling for inclusivity and representation.
“Looking around the room here and seeing that, what, there’s 19 organizations or so? I mean this is really impressive,” Flores said. “So hopefully with that presence the next time they make one of these commemorative reports, think about how you want to be featured, or how you want your legacy to be here at the University.”
Heguaburo said launching the website during alumni weekend was meant to allow alumni to see their contributions to the University receive recognition.
“Ultimately we decided to have it be it the kickoff event because we wanted alumni to be here to see that all the efforts that they did did not go unnoticed,” Heguaburo said. “Because a lot of alumni are highlighted.”
Second-year College student Pilar Jimenez attended the launch party and said the website is an important tool to boost recognition of the impact of the Latinx community at the University. Jimenez is the incoming LSA president and is also currently involved in the Latinx Leadership Institute, which recruits 30 first and second-year students for a six-week development program. Jimenez noted the significance of programs such as the historical website and having a weekend dedicated to Latinx alumni.
“I think it’s about visibility,” Jimenez said. “I think that often times Latinx history, as has been previously mentioned, is often forgotten, and I think that this event and the launch of this website marks the fact that we are indeed here, and we’re here to stay, and we’re here to be known that we’re here.”
Other students in attendance came to support and learn more about the Latinx community on Grounds. Third-year College students Nathan Abraham and Vilas Annavarapu said the website is a much-needed educational tool that the entire University community can benefit from.
“I think for students like me, who don’t have as a much of a background with cultural organizations, it’s an awesome educational tool to let people know what awesome work is being done,” Abraham said.
Annavarapu added that the student-led historical website compensates for the University’s lack of representation in the telling of its past.
“I think U.Va. really struggles with buried histories,” Annavarapu said. “There’s certain stories that get told over and over again, and that frequently comes at the expense of marginalized communities. And the onus is on student groups — unfairly so — to do that work, but it was done very beautifully and elegantly.”
Heguaburo noted that the central goal of her research and the release of the project was to bring these “buried histories” to light, and to make the history of Latinx organizations on Grounds comprehensive and accessible through a newfound source of information.
“The one thing that I do want to leave people with is that archiving our history, as well as any history of a minoritized group, matters,” Heguaburo said. “Because it serves to support the creation of new knowledge, as well as provide a platform to understand human experience that we would otherwise not be able to gauge.”
Newly appointed Special Collections Library archivist Bethany Anderson and her colleague, instruction librarian Krystal Appiah, have recently received a grant from the University Bicentennial in the spring to better archive and document various student organizations on Grounds.
The University Bicentennial Reward is supported by the Alumni Board of Trustees, and each proposal for the monetary awards has to align with the critical goals of bicentennial planning. These areas include engagement and promotion of alumni, parents and friends and raising public awareness of the University, commemoration of University history including its relationship with slavery and envisioning the future of the University.
“I recently received a grant from UVA Bicentennial this spring to begin identifying gaps in our holdings with respect to student organizations, conduct outreach to student organizations, and host a workshop for CIOs and student groups on donating and preserving their record,” Anderson said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “Moving forward we are hoping to more inclusively acquire records from student organizations.”