BY: MARIAH ESPADA
American University's Latin & American Student Organization (LASO) has completely revamped this year. With various new leaders coming on board, the club wants to create a stronger presence on campus and is looking to AU students on campus to make that a reality. The Blackprint is committed to supporting fellow minorities and creating a platform where voices can be heard. We spoke to some of the leaders from LASO themselves to get an inside scoop on all things Latin at AU.
MEET THE LEADERS (clockwise, from top left):
Lily Morenoâ€” Vice President
Lexi Macielâ€” Treasurer
Marlin Ramosâ€” Member Advocacy
Adam Nolanâ€” Community Outreach
What exactly is LASO and what is the club's motive for this year?
Lily: LASO stands for Latin and American Student Organization. In the past, it's been a club that puts on various events to try to get the community together. However, when the new board came in by the end of last year, we decided that we wanted to make it a more grandiose club for the Latino community on campus, because coming in we all thought that was something that was missing in our experiences at AU. The main goal of LASO is to create a foundation for that community on campus, rather than just having a name.
Adam: LASO is a club that is working to foster a real sense of community between Latinx people on campus. We usually put on social and community events, but this year we are also expanding into putting on political programming. In the past LASO has tried to stay away from political topics in an effort to not alienate anyone in the community, but this year we are not shying away from any of that. We want to start opening those dialogues because personal is politicalâ€¦ I don't think you can divorce the two. A lot of times culture can be political as well. So, LASO is trying to do a little bit of everything this year.
Marlin: At first I thought LASO stood for "Latin American Student Organization," once I joined the club I realized it was Latino and American. The statement itself coincides with our goal of starting dialogue on what it means to be Latino, while also being an inclusive environment for not only Latinos but non-Latinos. Our club's goal this year is to focus on the intersectionality of being Latino and the different identities within that by collaborating with the other diaspora clubs. We want to be more involved on campus and bemore political about issues going on right now. We want to show that being Latino means more than their preconceptions.
Who is welcomed to the club? How can people get involved?
Lily: Everyone is welcome! That is a big thing that we are trying to push for this year. It is not only for Latino students, although it's amazing that we get to come together and discuss our similarities, I don't feel that we are going to get anywhere if we do not invite people of other nationalities to join. We have joined forces with various on-campus organizations such as the Black Student Alliance (BSA) and AU Queers and Allies. We want to allow everyone to express their opinions and learn. A large part of LASO is creating that community but also expanding that community to others who are not necessarily Latino or Hispanic.
Lexi: One of the biggest misconceptions about LASO, and other cultural club on campus is that you have to be Latinx to join LASO, Asian to join Asian American Student Union (AASU), or Black to join BSA â€” and that just isn't true. We need people from outside communities to get involved with LASO which is why we invite every student on AU's campus. Be sure to attend our general body meetings where you can meet some of the e-board members and share your ideas. Also, something new we've started this year is "Cafecito con Laso" which means "Coffee with Laso." Essentially it's e-board office hours, so everyday we have one e-board member hanging out at the Dav in SIS. Students are welcomed to use those hours to come chat with us about ideas you have about the club, questions, or even advice.
Are there any upcoming events to look forward to now that Hispanic Heritage has ended?
Lexi: Our Latino Harvest Fest is a wrap-up event of Hispanic Heritage Month. It'll be an event where students can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and Latino culture by eating and dancing. There's going to be music, tabling of other organizations on campus like WOLAK, Brazilian Club, La Rasa, and others. It'll be an event to learn and have fun.
Adam: We are having another general body meeting on October 19 called LASO & Chill. We are also having a Day of the Dead Open Mic event on October 26 which will be super cool.
Marlin: We are having a sub-committee meeting coming soon, so if you're interested in being involved in planning be on the lookout for that.
In light of the target towards Hispanics in the recent election, do you feel like it's important to have a club like LASO as a support system?
Lily: I definitely feel that LASO is a great support system in light of recent events of the political campaign. I have a lot of Mexican friends or Mexican American friends who have been affected by the rhetoric of certain candidates. It plants a seed of personal prejudice. We want to make our group a safe space where people feel like they can come and share their personal experiences.
Lexi: Not only do I think it's important, I think it's absolutely crucial to have a club like LASO on campus. The hatred, violence, and racism that has come out of this election is something that Latinos have to deal with every single day. Unfortunately, students on our campus, the campus that fosters diversity and inclusion, have felt excluded, threatened, unsafe, and not welcomed. LASO wants to change that ... we want to remind Latino students that they do belong here and that they deserve to be here. We want students to know that they can come to us when they feel unsafe or victimized. We will support them and we will stand by them.
Beyond that, our events emphasize the need for building strong relationships to fellow students and partners in the internal and external community at AU. One of the things we've done this year is started a year long project called the Latino Identity Series. The mission is to embrace and highlight the individuality of each student while embracing cultural roots that they share with others. So we partner with organizations like BSA, AASU and Queers & Allies to have discussions centered around identity and the intersectionalities that exist. LASO is really a community of individuals that empower one another, support one another and see the importance of recognizing and accepting other cultures.
Adam: Yeah, absolutely...groups like LASO that try to create a community are important because if you have a good community and support system, it is not only good for us to feel safe and secure, but also we can organize and work to influence the political process. We can even influence the election itself. We have a lot of power.
Marlin: I definitely think it's important to be with your peers during the times that it's hard to be yourself. We've had discussions during our Latino Identity Series where we discussed what it means to be Latino and the whole point was to talk about our differences and our misconceptions.
What is one thing you wish you could share with the AU community about your Spanish culture?
Lily: I feel that the one thing that I try to change within others is the typical Latino stereotype. At first you take it as a joke, but then it starts to hit home, because this is what you hear over and over again. Even though I'm Cuban and Latina, people call me white all the time. At first I was really shy about approaching people with this issue, but then I gained the courage. These hate driven words can damage a person's self identity, and how they view themselves. In the past couple of years I have reconnected with my Latina roots, and I have taken a stand for myself â€” though I am not some huge activist â€” I feel like activism starts with the little things within individual relationships. Another issue is the fact that there is a stereotypical "Latino", and if you don't fit that mold then you are seen as being not Latino. I am proud to be Cuban, I am proud to be Latina.
Lexi: Generosity with our family, generosity in the way we give and the way we work. For me generosity is demonstrated by the unselfish ways that we have. We are open handed we give freely, even when we don't have much to give. I think people who don't understand Latino culture assume that we like to take, that we expect to be given, or that we feel entitled to something, and that's just a huge misconception. On the contrary, we give much and we work our butts off even when we aren't compensated for it.
Adam: Probably the food. I'm Cuban so one of the things for me that is most iconic about home is the food. My mom and aunts' cooking has always been central to me. I would love to be able to share with others the feeling of smelling cooking or see a dish and feeling a sense of home and nostalgia. I think that's really special.
Marlin: I'm Dominican and I'm from New York City, so my culture is very present where I'm from. Coming to AU there aren't that many Dominicans, which is different from me usually being surrounded by people that looked and sounded like me. Despite the presence of other Latin American dwellers, I had a hard time figuring out where I fit in on campus, which is why I joined LASO. People always say Dominicans speak their own language. We speak really fast so people have a hard time understanding us. People also always say Dominicans are the black race/the black Latinos, which is true, but a lot of us aren't. My mom, sister, and grandma have a lighter completion than my dad. Even though people say the Dominican kind of Hispanic is different or odd, it is a beautiful thing. Embrace the differences. It's the beautiful thing about being Latino.
Are there any major events happening this year that we can look forward to?
Lexi: Next semester we're having our traditional "Noche de Rumba" event which is essentially a dance night that we host we have a DJ come out. It's a lot of funâ€¦ so more information about that will come out as that gets closer, but we are looking forward to focusing on the Latino Harvest Festival that's in three weeks!
Marlin: We are bringing two great Hispanic poets: Elizabeth Acevedo and Rais Poetry. They are really successful poets and they are going to be here in the beginning of second semester, so look forward to the speakers we plan on bringing to campus.
The Blackprint's motto is "Stay Honest. Stay Brilliant. Stay Woke." Your mission statement is "Always Forward." What does that mean for LASO?
Lily: We had numerous meetings over the summer talking about how we wanted to rebrand LASO, right now especially regarding our slogan. We wanted to make sure the people knew that we were here, and that we were going to work with them and for them. We wanted a group that would encourage people to keep on going. Most importantly to not give up, because you can always find a home at LASO.
Lexi: Always Forward translates in Spanish to "Siempre Adelante," and it is a sentiment that has been passed down from one generation to the next. It reminds us to put one foot in front of the other and to stick together and support each other no matter how hard it gets. It is really a reminder of hope and perseverance that those things will get us through anything and LASO hopes to share that with the AU community.
Adam: That's a really good question! I think that it depends on who you ask. For me it means that although times can be hard, we are always persevering. You've got to endure all the struggles and keep it moving.
Marlin: The great thing about that statement is it's broad and it allows you to interpret it anyway that you want. The way I see it is as Latinos or children of immigrants, a lot of us feel like the odds are stacked against us ,or that it's ten times harder to accomplish things. With "Siempre Adelante" it reminds us to keep pushing forward and to always be on the forefront of things. Be proactive about your future and make things happen for yourself and the Latinos to come.
LASO's leaders are dedicated to creating a cultural and political environment that all can partake in. They are doing a lot for Latinos and non-Latinos at AU, and they're asking you to help make their voices heard on campus now. Like the organization's Facebook page to stay updated on events.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photos by Ariel Gomez.