The Carolina Latinx Center will host keynote speaker Katya Echazarreta, the first Mexican-born woman to go to space, this Wednesday in the Student Union to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Center chooses a specific theme each year to celebrate Latino identities — this year's theme is “LatinxVerse: El Universo Es Tuyo,” which aims to encourage UNC’s Latino community to explore their goals beyond societal limits. Mia Melendez-Ruiz, a student ambassador for CLC, said Echazarreta's story aligns with the theme because she is breaking barriers as a Latina woman in STEM.
“We believe that she is the definition of living her life outside boundaries, literally and figuratively,” she said. “There’s not many Latinos in STEM recognized and it’s an even bigger deal that she’s a woman.”
Other students also feel that the event is important to improve representation of the Latino community on campus. Ashley Artica-Zuniga, a Honduran-American student majoring in computer science, said Echazarreta inspires her.
“It’s very important, mostly because STEM is mostly men, so it’s kind of hard to find somebody to either relate to and connect with,” she said. “So I feel like seeing [that] somebody else like me can do it, then that gives me hope that I can also do it.”
Gabrielly Nolasco, a student ambassador for CLC, said she hasn't found many spaces with Latino students outside of the organization. According to UNC Undergraduate Admissions data, 10 percent of the most recent class of UNC students identify as Hispanic, Latino or Latina.
She also said Echazaretta's speaker event will provide Latino students with the opportunity to see someone with a similar background achieve a groundbreaking accomplishment.
Nancy Membreno, a Salvadoran-American first-year student, said she remembered hearing news about Echazarreta being selected to go to space by Space for Humanity. When she heard about the CLC’s event hosting Echazarreta, Membreno said she was very interested in attending.
“I remember when [the] news came out, it was all over the Spanish news outlets. I started following her on TikTok and Instagram,” Membreno said. “I think she’s been very influential, so I would definitely want to go see what she has to say.”