After years of effort and campaigning on the part of students, staff and faculty, the UNC Latinx Center is ready to continue supporting the Latinx communities on campus.
Josmell Perez, the director of the Latinx Center, has seen a decade of his and others’ work transform the Carolina Latinx Collaborative (CLC) into the Latinx Center.
A long-time member of the CLC, Perez said the collaborative, formerly located in Craige North Residence Hall, was created years ago to address the needs of the growing Latinx community at the school.
“People didn't know what (the collaborative) was. People didn't know what it would become,” he said. “It really became a sort of badge of honor that we were able to do a lot of programming within the collaborative sort of umbrella.”
Perez said the Center, which is located at Abernethy Hall, is a place for students to be mentored and to see themselves and their communities represented and celebrated on campus.
“I think that (the center) is a touchstone,” he said. “Everybody wants to have something that reflects their sense of being, and so having a physical space that represents their communities, their values, their background is something that is so important to all of us as human beings.”
First year Gabriela Silva, a staff member at the center, said she was able to see the value of the center as an incoming student.
“It’s my first-year here, and I was really wondering if I was going to find a community with other Latinos and Latinas at the school,” she said. “Just being able to work here, I’ve met a lot of people that I don’t think I would have met any other way.”
With the center finally created, Perez hopes that it will bring students, faculty and staff closer.
“I can envision a time and place in the future where faculty and staff will also be here and will be engaging with students in a genuine, organic way,” Perez said. “We can start breaking those barriers of faculty and staff and students and just being able to connect as people.”
Junior Lesley Cisneros, also a staff member, hopes that the center will be able to expand even further in the coming years.
“We have talked before that we’re creating the legacy of this center because it’s new right now,” she said. “Hopefully, by creating these events that welcome the community and also invite other communities to come learn about us, higher-up administration will see that we’re already outgrowing the space we just got.”
Paul Cuadros, a professor at the School of Media and Journalism, served as the chairperson for a committee created in 2014 that petitioned for the center to be created. Cuadros will now help with the faculty side of operations.
He said that one of the most important parts of the center is the community it can nurture.
“For our students, it’s a place for them to go and to find a little piece of home and comfort and also to congregate and meet other people,” Cuadros said. “We want our students to be able to feel like there is a space for them.”
The center had a welcoming event last Thursday. A food truck served free pupusas and attendees painted handprints on a wall in the center. Perez estimates that well over 200 people attended the event.
“I’m a sophomore, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many Latinx students on campus together at once,” Jacqueline Santillan, another staff member, said. “That was really surprising for me, and it made me feel super warm and even more welcomed than I already did before.”
The official opening of the center will happen Oct. 4, and Cuadros encourages all students, part of the Latinx community or not, to come celebrate and share in their traditions.
The center is planning keynote speakers, a lecture series and partnerships with different academic departments for Latinx Heritage Month — which lasts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. For Cuadros, events like these help show the Latinx community’s presence on campus and spark conversation about the issues it faces.
“Right now, our community has some challenges before it,” Cuadros said. “We’re hoping that the center will help to be able to provide that voice to help everybody through that.”