Latines Unides brings “Bario Power” to campus


Annalise Meyer

Associate Professor of History Fernando Calderón lectures on student political movements in 1970s Mexico.

Associate Professor of History Fernando Calderón from the University of Northern Iowa gave a lecture titled “Barrio Power: Working-class Youth and Class Struggle in 1970s Mexico” on Sept. 18 in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

Calderón’s lecture was sponsored by Latines Unides and the history department in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The lecture covered the student-led political movements that developed during the Cold War era. During this period in the country’s history, the Mexican government prided itself on being a democratic nation amidst the authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in other Latin American countries.

However, dissatisfaction arose due to the one-party democratic system of the Partido Revolucionario

Institutional,which translates to the Institutional Revolutionary Party.  

“The students rose up hoping to expose the real Mexico,” Calderón said.

According to National Public Radio, in 1968, students held a demonstration in Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City, where the military and police shot, beat, and imprisoned protesters.

The event is now called the Tlatelolco Massacre and is considered the inciting incident that prompted student activists to militarize their movements. The two main student organizations that developed in the aftermath of the Tlatelolco Plaza Massacre were the Frente Estudiantil Recolucionario, or Student Revolutionary Front, and Los Enfermos, or The Sick Ones.

Both groups advocated for a communist government, which they viewed as a solution to Mexico’s lack of representation and general inequality. These groups were primarily composed of working class students. However, the Mexican government used the social class of these student activists against them, depicting  the students as “intuitively disobedient” delinquents to the general public. 

“Students of that background are still considered enemies of the state,” Calderón said.

Ian Adams (‘20) says Calderón provided valuable information about this part of Mexico’s history that humanized Latinx individuals of the past and present.

“I feel like it’s important to understand a culture and history to understand [Latin Americans] as a people,” Adams said.

Spencer Gillian (‘23) was also interested in the historical aspects of Calderón’s lecture and says he feels an increased civic duty after hearing the scholar speak. He says that as a student learning what it means to be politically engaged, this history feels relevant to his life.

  “It’s very directly connected with me becoming a college student,” Gillian said. “It kind of jolted me into realizing that I do have some political responsibility now,” Gillian said.

   Professor of Spanish Alfredo Alonso Estenoz says it is helpful for Luther students to examine how others around the world have advocated for themselves throughout history.

   “I think it’s useful for students to compare with students in other countries and in other time periods and to see how other students throughout history have claimed their rights and fought for what they think is a better society in general,” Estenoz said.

   Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History Kelly Sharp helped organize the event and believes it is important to provide resources for students interested in learning more about Latin American history.

   “We don’t have anyone that specializes in Latin American history in our department right now and we don’t want that to restrict student access or interest in Latin American history,” Sharp said. “I hope [this lecture] sparks inspiration in collective action in not being shy to ask for changes that [students] want to see from the administration on campus.”

Co-president of Latines Unides Tony Perez Soto (‘20) also considers the lecture as a way to educate the public on Latin American history and hopes events like this will bring more attention to Hispanic issues on campus.

   “We also want to bring more visibility to Hispanic issues, Hispanic history, and Hispanic culture on campus,” Perez Soto said. “We aim to provide a safe space for [everyone], especially for people who have a Hispanic background or a Latin American background.”

   Calderón hopes his lecture will encourage students to stand up for their beliefs and become more engaged in their communities.

  “I’m not advocating that they should necessarily do what these students did,” Calderón said. “But . . . hopefully [I can] embolden them to think it’s possible that they can be social actors and agents of social change and critical thinkers as well.”

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