This is the first installment of a new series highlighting student leaders who are making a positive impact at Lawrence by sharing their cultures and uplifting their communities. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, this week’s article features Alianza, a student organization dedicated to supporting Latinx students.
Alianza has organized four events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15. They started strong with a trivia night on Sep. 21, featuring frozen desserts from Fríos Mexican Treats. On Sep. 28, they hosted “Poems of Our Homeland”, an event where students could write poems to celebrate their culture, nationality, and ethnicity. The third event, Noche de Juegos (Game Night), will be held in collaboration with Pan-Asian Organization on Oct. 5.
Alianza’s events will culminate in a massive Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration on Main Hall Green on Oct. 15. There will be multiple food trucks and live dance performances that capture the essence of Hispanic and Latinx culture.
I caught up with Alianza’s five-member board – co-chairs Kaylie Lopez and Tania Sosa, treasurer Laurance Campos, publicist Arlet Montalvo-Mosso, and secretary Daniel Godoy – to find out more about their organization’s goals, as well as their individual experiences with culture and society as Hispanic and Latinx students.
Lopez, a junior majoring in biochemistry and minoring in Spanish, stepped into her role as co-chair because she wanted to help build a strong Latinx community on campus.
“I knew that in order to feel comfortable in my surroundings, I needed to take a leadership position and make the change myself,” she said.
She stated that the most important aspect of her position is listening, uplifting and platforming her fellow Alianza members so the organization can cater to their needs.
“As a board member, I just want to make sure that the rest of my board members feel heard,” said Lopez. “We talk a lot to our other members, we hear what they want to see, and we try to make it a reality.”
Although Lopez is excited about celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, she argued that the term Hispanic does not fully encompass the diversity of the Latinx community.
“Latinidad can mean very different things [to different people], and they may not use the same term when it comes to identifying. That’s totally okay,” said Lopez. “The Latino community is a thriving, beautiful and diverse group of individuals.”
She also encouraged people to educate themselves about Latinx culture all year round, not just during Hispanic Heritage Month. She urged Lawrence to provide more resources for undocumented students and hopes that building a strong Latinx community on campus can close the gap in graduation rates between Latinx students and their white peers.
“We’re here, we exist, and we’re just going to keep showing up and proving the statistics wrong when it comes to Latinos and higher education,” Lopez said.
Sosa, a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in neuroscience, is excited for the Hispanic Heritage Month events because preserving and celebrating cultural traditions plays a critical role in her Hispanic identity. She decided to become co-chair after witnessing how Alianza’s events brought joy to the Lawrence community.
“Seeing everyone so happy and so united at this event made me want to continue to have those kinds of celebrations here on campus,” said Sosa.
While most Alianza events take place in the Diversity and Intercultural Center, Sosa said that the board plans to host some events at Latinx-owned small businesses in downtown Appleton. She also hopes that her leadership will inspire younger students to join Alianza so the organization can continue its mission in the future.
Sosa, who identifies as Hispanic and grew up in a Mexican community in Texas, sees Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to bring awareness to the difficulties the Latinx community faces in both the United States and in their own countries.
“We want to create a community – not only with our members, but also with the rest of the Lawrence students,” she said. “Most of them haven’t been exposed to these different cultures, so we want to bring everyone together through these events.”
While she praised the staff at the Diversity and Intercultural Center for helping Alianza organize their events, she also admitted that organizing these events can be stressful because diversity organizations receive little support from administration and faculty.
“We already have so much on our plates. It would just be helpful if faculty would be more involved in the organization, the planning and making it come to life at the end,” said Sosa. “We just want to make sure that our students get the best events possible.”
Campos, a junior majoring in biology, echoed Lopez’s interest in presenting the diversity of the Latinx community. He shared that Alianza helped him to adjust to life at Lawrence after growing up in a predominantly Mexican community in Texas.
“I really wanted a sense of community because when I first came to campus, I was very lost and I felt outnumbered. I went to a predominantly Latinx high school, so it was weird transitioning to a predominantly white university.”
Campos is especially excited about the upcoming dance performances at the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.
“I love cultural expressions,” he said. “I never got to do the dances that my family grew up with, so seeing them in such a happy, playful way makes me very proud.”
As Alianza’s treasurer, Campos expressed the importance of proper funding for diversity organizations so they can continue their work. When asked about how people can better support his community, he advised non-Latinx people to engage with Latinx culture but cautioned against cultural appropriation.
“It sometimes feels that being Latinx is being treated almost like a caricature, like something to cosplay and use as a costume,” said Campos. “Respect the different cultures and communities without expressing it in a way that takes advantage of it.”
Montalvo-Mosso, a junior majoring in biochemistry and biology with a minor in ethnic studies, oversees advertising for Alianza’s events on social media. Like Lopez, she said that her Mexican- American upbringing has influenced how she approaches the idea of community.
“The community [in Mexico] is there to support you as you go on in life, and I really appreciate that. I want to bring that sense of community here as well,” Montalvo-Mosso said.
She believes that building a supportive community for marginalized students can help them succeed, reducing college dropout rates. She’s particularly passionate about helping first- and second-year Latinx students feel welcome as they navigate their Lawrence experience.
Montalvo-Mosso wants to advocate for Latinx students when they encounter microaggressions or other forms of discrimination, both in and out of the classroom. She also highlighted the need for more resources for immigrants. “I want the university to have a department where immigrant students can ask for resources or immigration advice or scholarships that pertain to them,” she stated.
Junior Daniel Godoy, who’s majoring in biochemistry and chemistry with a minor in anthropology, expressed great pride in his Colombian heritage. He shared that his identity as a Colombian feels prominent at Lawrence because he is one of the few Colombians on campus.
As an immigrant, Godoy joined the board because he wants to help students through feelings of culture shock and isolation.
“I’ve navigated those feelings in the past, and ever since high school, I’ve been wanting to help others navigate those feelings as well,” he said. “I felt like Alianza was one way to continue working towards that personal goal of mine while also having a good time.”
Although some of Alianza’s events do seek to inform the Lawrence community about Hispanic and Latinx culture, Godoy urged non-Latinx students to do their own research rather than relying solely on Latinx people to educate them.
“Alianza members and Latinx students on campus are not here as educators when it comes to our cultures or history,” he said. “If we want to educate others on those things, then that’s fine. But it’s ultimately not our job to do so. Do a little bit of your own work.”
Godoy closed his interview with a few thoughtful words for the readers.
“I hope that whoever gets to read this gets to reflect on what they’re doing to support the Hispanic community and are able to celebrate with us,” he said.