LatinX Heritage Month: UIC's History of LatinX Student Action Panel

by Center for Student Involvement


Tue, Oct 10, 2023

6 PM – 7:30 PM CDT (GMT-5)

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The goal of this panel is to inspire current UIC students to engage in actions that can change their university environment for greater inclusivity and substantive support by discussing the movements of the 1970s through present-day activisms and how the three pillars of Latinx student support: Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services,The Rafael Cintrón Ortiz Latino Cultural Center, and the Latin American and Latino Studies Department can support and benefit from greater student involvement.

Additionally, we have worked with Janette Guzman, Assistant Director for Alumni Affinity Programs, to invite alumni to the panel, share their stories, build a base network for an oral history project, and develop a formal UIC Latinx Alumni network that can be used for mentorship. We hope to use this panel as a reunion of sorts with an opportunity for audience participation and share-outs towards the end of the panel discussion.

With this alumni involvement tenet, we hope this inaugural panel will lay the groundwork for an annual version for Latinx Heritage Month with the LHM committee offering ideas for each year like shifting to highlight alumni of specific and different Latinx organizations, and an Alumni Recognition Award to be given out at the final event.

The panel is composed of: Anissa Camacho, Dr. Rosa Cabrera, Luis Duarte, Dr. Leonard Ramirez, Irma Saucedo, and Diana Solís. Moderated by Dr. Lilia Fernandez.

Lilia Fernández specializes in the history of Latinos/as/x in the mid-to-late 20th century United States. Her research interests lie at the intersection of urban history, labor and working-class politics, and economic inequality. Her first book, Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago, focused on the migration and settlement of these two populations in the city's central neighborhoods and the communities they formed.
More recently, Fernández has examined the history of Latinos in New Jersey. For six years at Rutgers University, she founded and led the Latino New Jersey History Project, documenting the state's diverse Latino populations through student-led oral histories and web-based public history projects. She also collaborated with the Voces Oral History Center at UT Austin to document the experiences of New Jersey's Latinos during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her current research continues to examine Latino history in the Chicago area, focusing specifically on cross-ethnic interactions among Latinos, their labor politics, class dynamics, activism, and strategic articulations of a panethnic identity.
Before arriving at UIC, Fernández was previously Associate Professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Prior to that she was Assistant and Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University. Fernández received her B.A. at Harvard University; an Ed.M. at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and her Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego. She servers on the boards of several academic organizations and is a series editor for the University of Chicago Press's Historical Studies in Urban America.

I am a first generation college graduate who grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago. I received my B.A. in Anthropology and Latin American and Latino Studies here at the University of Illinois- Chicago, graduating Magna Cum Laude. I am currently a graduate student of the Latin American and Latino department with a concentration in Black Studies.

My journey with student activism on campus began during my undergrad. I was the Vice President of the Union of Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) and the Study Abroad Ambassador of Puerto Rico. I participated in the first study abroad trip to Puerto Rico and that experience was intellectually enlightening for me. Upon returning, my study abroad cohorts and myself fought for the reinstatement of the Union of Puerto Rican Students as an active student organization after it was dormant for two years. I stayed active as an Ambassador of Puerto Rico, promoting the program, fundraising, and giving scholarship assistance. I recognize the needs of the campus community, to relate to understanding the contribution made by the Latinx community, and acknowledge the need of getting together to create an appreciation of our cultural heritage by encouraging and implementing programs, activities, and courses, presenting the Puerto Rican reality in its cultural, social, political, and educational aspects.

My activism continues outside of campus out into the community. I am a part of the Climate Committee of the Puerto Rican Agenda-Chicago. We work on climate change issues within the Humboldt Park community. We have recently collaborated with Argonne National Lab as part of their Community Research on Climate and Urban Science (CROCUS) with the goal to develop knowledge and tools that are responsive to the needs of diverse communities and applicable to urban areas. The research provides opportunities to educate and train the next generation. We were instrumental in Initiatives like Project Jibaro, which is an urban agricultural project as a possible mitigation strategy to climate change in Humboldt Park.

I also participate as an associate of Digitize the Barrio, the goal being to archive, to actively collect, store, and make the Chicago Puerto Rican diaspora part of the public record of Humboldt Park/West Town, Chicago, Puerto Rico, and beyond. The project provides insight into the development of anti-colonial community efforts and nationalist Puerto Rican politics here in Chicago.

Leonard Ramirez, Ph.D., is an educator and longtime community advocate. His professional and social activism has focused on Latinx community advancement, including the educational access and success of Latinx youth and adults. He was among the founders of Latino Youth Alternative High School in Chicago's Pilsen/18th Street community. For over thirty years, he was the director of the nationally recognized Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was appointed to the Community Advisory Committee on Higher Education (CACHE) by then State Senator Miguel del Valle. He has served on various boards including the Diversifying Faculty in Illinois program (DFI) for the State of Illinois. He was previously board president of the Instituto del Progreso Latino, a community education center serving the immigrant community of Chicago. Today he is Policy Vice President of the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE) an and a member of the Illinois African American and Latino Higher Education Alliance (IALHEA). As a member of IALHEA, Dr. Ramirez collaborated on the development of Storming the Gates, a documentary regarding the entrance of historically underrepresented minority students into Illinois higher education institutions. He currently serves as a member of NEIU's ENLACE program's community council. As a student activist, Leonard Ramirez organized students to oppose the Vietnam War. He also participated in protests that culminated in the creation of the LARES program and was one of the principal organizers of the campaign to create the Rafael Cintron Ortiz Cultural Center. Dr. Ramirez is the author of Chicanas of 18th Street: Narratives of Education and Struggle published by the University of Illinois Press.

Rosa M. Cabrera, Ph.D, is the Executive Director of the Rafael Cintrón Ortiz Latino Cultural Center at UIC. Her research and praxis work focuses on understanding environmental and climate change problems as a social issue within larger systems of power and privilege; scrutinizing the role of social and environmental justice in museums and cultural centers; and using methodologies for public engagement that are centered on the arts and humanities to harness first voice stories and community knowledge to create culturally relevant and place- based solutions. Cabrera is an adjunct faculty in the Department of Anthropology, Graduate College, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, and Museum and Exhibition Studies. She is also a Keller Science Action Center Associate at the Field Museum and a Mellon Faculty Fellow with the Humanities Action Lab.
Cabrera earned her Doctorate in Anthropology and Bachelors of Arts in Design from UIC and has talked extensively on the role of ethnic museums and cultural centers in shaping community identity–which was the topic of her dissertation. Prior to joining UIC, she was at the Field Museum where she led the "Cultural Connections" program, a partnership of more than 25 ethnic museums and cultural centers in Chicago that formed the Chicago Cultural Alliance in 2006 under her leadership. Between 2009-2011, she was part of a research team in a project with nine Chicago neighborhoods to better understand how diverse residents, including Latinxs in Pilsen, could be engaged in the Chicago Climate Action Plan.
At UIC she has implemented projects such as the Heritage Garden to help the campus make explicit connections between environmental sustainability, cultural diversity, and social justice. She is currently working on the Humanities Action Lab "Climates of Inequality" project, which includes a traveling exhibit that amplifies local stories of environmental justice. The local story of La Villita, developed by students in her Environmental and Climate Justice course in partnership with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and Alianza Americas reveals how environmental and social injustices intersect in this neighborhood. Cabrera is currently co-PI in two projects: Climate and Environmental Justice Crossing Latinidades.
Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative based at the University of Illinois Chicago, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Cultural Immersion in Monarchs and Milkweeds Advancing Science Education (CIM 2 AS), funded by the National Science Foundation.

Luis Duarte is the Executive Director of the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) program at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and has been a member of the UIC community for over 20 years. He holds a B.A. from De Paul University and a M.A. from Northeastern Illinois University. As a passionate higher education advocate representing the needs of the Latino community, Luis has co-chaired numerous campus committees including the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Latinos (CCSL) and the Latino Committee on University Affairs (LCUA); has served as a board member for the Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education (ILACHE); and, has participated in a number of UIC recruitment and retention committees.

[Headshot: Saucedo]

Irma Saucedo is a UIC alum, was one of the students of the 1970s movements. Lives in Mexico City and will be joining us via Zoom. She has been working on a documentary on one of the Puerto Rican students that was part of the student protest. [More detailed bio and headshot forthcoming]

Diana Solís, a photojournalist, known as La Pilsenita. She authored LUZ: Seeing the Space Between Us. She is a UIC alum and was around during the time students were fighting for LARES to be created. [More detailed bio and headshot forthcoming]"

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