The semester’s first meeting of Ajúa Campos, a student group whose stated purpose is to educate “Latinos, as well as the greater Wesleyan community, on Latino cultural values and political issues,” drew students from a wide range of class years and geographic backgrounds.
Despite these differences, however, there lay a breath of familiarity between all members of the group, even those who were new. A couple of members bonded over their Cuban ancestry, while others bonded over having grown up in similar parts of New York. Still more bonded over what kind of pre-collegiate schools they went to, including both public schools with large black and Latin@ (Latino and Latina) populations and predominantly white private schools.
All of the members, separately and collectively, expressed relief in having a group on campus full of people like them.
Zaida Garcia ’15 says that it is this sense of belonging that made her join Ajúa Campos during her freshman year.
“You know, we’re very diverse, because we’re all from different countries,” she said. “There are references that I don’t know, we speak different dialects [of Spanish]. But, at the end of the day, there’s just an experience about being Latin American in this country.”
Most of Ajúa Campos’s efforts toward educating the broader Wesleyan populace about the Latin@ experience are centered on Latin@ Affirmation Month (LAM for short). Garcia said that, during LAM, which starts in late October and ends in early December, Ajúa Campos hosts a keynote speaker, around whom the theme is often built, as well as several other events.
As co-chairs, Kristie Cruz ’15 and Sonia Zavala ’15 are in charge of many of the planning duties for this year’s LAM. Zavala said that this year’s theme, pending changes, is Queering Latinidad, a study of the intersection of queer and Latin@ cultures.
Past speakers for LAM include Cherríe Moraga in 2012, a Chicana, feminist, and queer activist; and Sonia Monzano in 2013, who plays Maria in “Sesame Street.” Garcia said that previous themes include Latin@ art, “fighting injustice,” and, last year, “building our community within ourselves.”
In addition to past keynote speeches, Garcia said that events have included lectures, panels with faculty members, and parties. Past panel topics have gone into issues surrounding what it means to be Latino. Every year, Ajúa Campos also hosts Día de los Muertos, or “Celebration [literally, ‘Day’] of the Dead,” a Mexican event, as part of LAM.
Once LAM is over, Garcia said that the club spends much of its time focusing on political discussions and social events within the club. Outside of meetings, she said that the club has some potluck dinners. During meetings, the club spends its time discussing relevant political issues, watching music videos, and, generally learning and talking about Latin American cultures.
Ajúa Campos additionally spent some of its first meeting talking briefly about the recent assaults on campus, the discrimination some students of color feel when using The Ride, and the recent firing of several members of the janitorial staff, many of whom are Latin@, by Sun Services, the maintenance service Wesleyan employs.
It is this ability to talk about and to understand, out of experience, issues affecting Latin@ people and, more broadly, students of color, that have made Garcia, along with the rest of the members, enjoy Ajúa Campos.
“It’s just a good group to come to,” Garcia said. “You know, to speak Spanish to. You can talk about undocumented immigration with [the members]. You can talk about anything.”