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'Pa’lante': Carolina Latinx Center hosts open house to kick-off academic year

Eddy Velazquez, a sophomore pre-business major, talks to another student at the Carolina Latinx Center's open house event on Aug. 25.

Passing by Abernethy Hall on Wednesday, one could hear the faint sounds of guitar playing from the speakers. Students at UNC lined up for pupusas from a small, white food truck. The smell of pork traveled through the air, distinct even with a mask on.

With the doors to the Carolina Latinx Center open and students gathering inside, there was a feeling of community at the center's open house, hosted to introduce students to Latinx organizations at UNC.

CLC programming and safe spaces

Josmell Pérez, director of the CLC, said he wants the center to be a space where students can come and learn the many aspects of Latinx heritage. He said the center can provide a space for organic mentorship, where faculty, staff and students can utilize the building.

“I remember when this was just an idea from our students, and we galvanized from back in 2007,” Pérez said. “And since 2007, we’ve been working and pushing to ultimately create a center. That all came together in 2019, so that we can finally have a space and continue to do some of the work we’re doing as a collaborator.”

Marcela Torres-Cervantes, assistant director of the CLC, said she envisions the space serving different needs for students.

“We’re hoping that is an environment that we can create for everybody, where they can study, hang out, come talk to us, and it’s really just somewhere that they can turn off and be at peace on campus,” she said.

Torres-Cervantes said she began working with the CLC in September 2020, and seeing the center from a distance beforehand made her feel a surge of pride for her community.

“I was raised in North Carolina, so I have seen our population grow exponentially since I was a kid,” Torres-Cervantes said. “And to grow to the point that the land grant institution on-campus like Chapel Hill has a whole center dedicated to us was really exciting. Now that I get to work here, it’s just a sense of full circle, like we were meant to be here.”

Latinx organizations and development

A student organization present at the open house was Lambda Pi Chi — also known as Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad — a Latina-based sorority meant to empower women in social networks while also promoting cultural awareness.

Member and UNC senior Emily Banks said that having a physical marker of an underrepresented community is important.

“It's a place where we can express our identity, or we can connect with other people, where we can learn about other cultures as well,” Banks said. “Just providing a place where we can come together, learn from each other and continue to grow will hopefully bring more Latinx students to our campus.”        

Mayra Pérez, another member of Lambda Pi Chi and UNC senior, said she remembers coming in as a first-year in 2018 and having a small room to meet for Latinx events and programs. She said having a space is a milestone because the community wanted one for so long.

Cinthia Salinas-Pavón, program assistant for the CLC, said she is ready for future Churros y Chisme events — a monthly series featuring snacks from local Latinx-owned business Epilogue. The previous event drew more participants than expected, she said. 

“Last week, we were planning for 40 students to show up, but we had over 150 and it was out the door, so it was amazing,” Salinas-Pavón said.

Senior Elena Delvalle, another member of Lambda Pi Chi, said she is excited for Carnaval, an event planned for Latinx Heritage Month. She said Mi Pueblo, a Latinx-based organization, usually plans the event, but other organizations collaborate as well.

Preparing for COVID-19

Josmell Pérez said that with COVID-19 still present, the center is working on contingency plans. He said a lot of the programs planned can be done virtually, to the point that it has become second nature for both students and members of the center.

Pérez said, though people have gotten used to Zoom and social media communication, there is nothing like breaking bread and meeting others in person.

“Don’t forget to wear your masks and be safe, but community is built in-person,” he said.

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Torres-Cervantes said the CLC’s theme for 2021 is “pa’lante,” which is short for “para adelante” and can be translated as “moving forward.”

“The reason we picked that is because our past 18 months have been a series of harsh realities and failures, but we’re still moving forward,” she said. “That’s kind of the resiliency of our culture. Just keep going and make the most out of every experience, even the failures.”

For more information on upcoming programs hosted by the Carolina Latinx Center, visit its website.

@jenniferhtran_ |