UCR celebrates Semana de la Raza

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

Monday: Oscar Romero Lecture Featuring Elpidia Carrillo

After discovering where Bourns A265 was, I stumbled into the sparsely decorated room with a table of light refreshments and a lone Salvadoran flag that hung behind the three guest speakers. Elpidia Carrillo, an actress most prominent for her role in social justice films, began her speech by conversing in Spanish to the few Salvadorans in the crowd and reflecting on her experience of going to El Salvador. “Working as an artist gives me the opportunity to meet people with different backgrounds and ethnicities. To be an actress you must interpretar y ser (interpret and be) the roles,” she remarked.

As a Latina actress, Carrillo often found herself conflicted between her true culture and what Hollywood expects her to be. “There’s this myth of a farmer girl finding her Prince Charming that just doesn’t exist in real Mexico,” she describes. She attempts to fight against the stereotype of Salvadoran and Latina women who are thought to be carefree and therefore desirable; this insulted her since she wanted to work without having to sell her body. “I play Latinas and everything has to be in a box defined by people working in the industry and I have a really hard time dealing with that,” she reflected, determined to shed light on her personal struggle.

Another speaker told the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who also saw the struggles that his country was facing. When he finally opened up his eyes to the atrocities happening around him, such as the social injustice happening in El Salvador, he decided to take matters up himself by dedicating the rest of his life to helping others. The experiences of Carrillo and Romero highlighted the injustices of Salvadorans and encouraged the audience to take action.

Janine Ybanez/HIGHLANDER
Janine Ybanez/HIGHLANDER

Wednesday: Semana de la Raza Nooner

As I walked throughout the Wednesday Semana de la Raza celebration, it felt like I was transported to Mexico. The beginning of the festival had vendors that sold a variety of foods from Mexico. Everything from seasoning-drenched tostilocos, to the cheese-based delicacy elote was offered. There even was a Chik-fil-A stand which caught the eye of many starving college students as well.

While you socialized and roamed about, a mariachi band played musical classics. The band was adamant about the spectators genuinely enjoying their time at the event and even called up on a few girls to dance and show off their spirit. Booths were positioned around the event that belonged to a variety of school organizations on campus in an attempt to grab people’s attentions as they munched on their Mexican snacks.

Balloons and flags the color of the Mexican flag surrounded the area; everywhere I looked I was captivated by the radiant glow of the spiraling colors. It’s amazing how colors add to the overall vibe and become vividly emblazoned in your mind, positioning you into another reality, if only for a few fleeting moments. You could tell that Chicano Student Programs put in a lot of hard work — there were no gimmicks or trite demonstrations, just pure unadulterated energy and candid displays of pride, which everyone roaming about appreciated.

Tim Baca/HIGHLANDER
Tim Baca/HIGHLANDER

Thursday: The Root Causes of Immigration

Thursday’s event featured a lesson from local teacher and UCR alumna Debbie LeAnce about the underlying causes of immigration to the United States from Mexico and Central America. Her lecture provided a more balanced view, avoiding the whitewashed reason often parroted in discourse about immigration — that people come “because it’s so much better here.” She covered a wide range of topics, spanning from the immigration crisis highlighted by the media in the summer of 2014, while also touching on how U.S. domestic and foreign policy has led to sectarian violence in Mexico and Central America.

LeAnce began her lecture a few minutes after 2 p.m., showing some YouTube clips about U.S. destabilization of Nicaragua to pass the time. The official lecture began with a brief recap of recent events involving current immigration issues from Mexico and Central America. LeAnce included local news clips that discussed the influx of unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America, as well as local news clips of fierce immigration protests that had taken place in Fresno and the Inland Empire. An activist as well as an educator, LeAnce had several still images and anecdotes that covered her activism, which involves community organizing and protesting, in the ongoing immigration debate.

The second and third parts of the lecture covered how the U.S. has contributed to governmental and social unrest south of our border. She mentioned how around 70 percent of the guns used by cartels against Mexican civilians and police come from the U.S. She also discussed how several coups carried out by the Ronald Reagan Administration replaced democratically elected officials in Guatemala, El Salvador and other Central American countries with brutal military dictatorships that created civil unrest that led to the current immigration issues we now face.

While both eye-opening and at times disheartening, LeAnce’s lecture didn’t end on a negative note, as several of the attending students gave their opinions on what can be done to help with the ongoing problems we face at home and abroad.

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