Latinex students and faculty share experiences

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Nick Greseth ('22) - Photo Bureau

Lorelayn Coto (‘21), Salomé Valdivieso (‘23), Gabriel Palacios (‘22) and Professor of Africana Studies and History Kelly Sharp participated in the “Latinx panel: Experiences at Luther College.”

The Center for Ethics and Public Engagement and Latines Unides hosted “Latinx panel: Experiences at Luther College,” on Feb. 27 to inform community members about how Latinx faculty members’ and students’ identities affect their experiences on campus.

Gabriel Palacios (‘22), Salomé Valdivieso (‘23), Lorelayn Coto (‘21), and Professor of Music Tony Guzmán (‘90) participated in the panel, which was moderated by Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History Kelly Sharp.

The panelists discussed how their identities are not always clearly defined and that ‘Latinx’ is a broad term that encompasses many different cultures and ethnicities. Guzmán, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, was surprised to discover how much race and ethnicity affect identity in the U.S. when he came to Luther as a student.

“I grew up with the idea that your identity is the commitments you make,” Guzmán said. “If you are a student, if you are a teacher, or a father, that is your identity. When I came to the United States and started filling out forms, it was the very first time in my life the question of race was asked.”

Valdevieso said she became more aware of Latinx identity categories after leaving her home in Ecuador. She stressed that Luther needs more academic opportunities in Latin American studies, an area in which she hopes to focus for her international studies major.

“Once I left home, I realized how strongly my identity influences how people perceive me and how I perceive people as well,” Valdevieso said. “I think I started being more passionate about issues regarding social justice and how students are being represented here at Luther College. I thought that was something I should keep pursuing.”

Valdivieso wanted to participate in the panel because she believes in the importance of communication between different cultures and sharing stories of underrepresented groups.

“I think it is important to recognize the importance of sharing a community,” Valdevieso said. “It would be different if we were just having this conversation in Latines Unides than actually having staff members, faculty members, and other students of other ethnicities. Not only do Latinos interact with each other, we interact with other people in our community.”

Panelists discussed the difficulties that accompany being part of a minority group on Luther’s campus. Guzmán expressed concern over the country’s current political climate and linked it to an increase in negative experiences and interactions he has noticed since the 2016 presidential election, though he still feels at home at Luther.

“I feel respected by my students every single day, and that kind of balances the aspect of when I get out of Decorah or Luther, I have to face the political discourse that’s going on these days,” Guzmán said.

Panelists also discussed how to be an ally to Latinx people by attending other events organized by Latines Unides, keeping up on international news, or even learning the music and dances of other cultures.

“I hope this panel made people aware of how to be a good ally among several topics,” Valdevieso said. “We discussed several topics of giving more space for people of color to talk or giving more space for Latinx students to talk. If there is a question you have about Latin America, respectfully ask those students because we are the ones who live those realities every day.”

Luvia Burleigh (‘21) believes it is important to learn about the differences between Latin American countries and the various cultures within them. She wants others on campus to learn about Latinx experiences as well.

“I think it’s important, especially with the last four years with the current president, to have that [Latinx] voice heard, and to

understand the culture, no matter what that culture is,” Burleigh said. “If we don’t, we get these certain perspectives or stereotypes of what one culture is.”

Elsa Manning (’21) Chips
Professor of Music Tony Guzmán (’90) shares his experience as both a student and a faculty member at Luther.

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