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Carolina Latinx Center hosting first Mexican-born woman to go to space for Hispanic Heritage Month event

The Carolina Latinx Center is set to kickoff Latinx Heritage Month, photographed on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.

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.”

Membreno also noted the significance of Echazarreta’s story for Latino students — especially students with immigrant parents. 

“A lot of what she embodies and her persona she puts out is that she worked hard to make her parents proud,” Membreno said. “I think that’s something that everyone just naturally has in them when they know their parents left everything to come to a different country for them.”

Having this event available to students is valuable in helping the Latino community feel represented, she said. Membreno added that it's significant for UNC to host this event because she feels like UNC doesn't always know how to properly celebrate Latino culture during the month. 

Artica-Zuniga said she believes that Hispanic and Latino representation at UNC should include more diverse nationalities. She also said that some Latino nationalities aren’t as frequently showcased on campus.

“I’m Honduran, and I usually will see Mexican representation or Spanish representation, but not really Central American or South American,” Artica-Zuniga said.

Still, Artica-Zuniga said she thinks the event is a “good start” for more Hispanic and Latino cultural awareness. 

Melendez-Ruiz said she encourages students to come hear Echazarreta speak at the event. Echazaretta will speak in the Student Union’s Great Hall at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

“It’s a fantastic experience to learn more about someone else’s experience and stories,” Melendez-Ruiz said.

@dailytarheel |

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