EARLY LATINO STUDENT ORGANIZATION
Latino students had been organized in small organizations dating back to the 1950s. La Asociacion Cultural de Estudiantes Latino Americanos (ACELA) was the first Latin American organization to appear on campus, formed by Puerto Rican and South American students in the 1950s. The first Latino students from the United States to attend Penn did not appear until the 1970s, when efforts to desegrate the University began to focus on Chicano and Carribean students from the Southwest and the Northeast. In 1971, the University of Pennsylvania began its first real recruitment of Mexican-American students by bringing in a group of freshman from South Texas. Following the 1969 founding of MEChA at the University of California at Santa Barbara, MEChA was formed by that first small group of students in an effort to help Chicanas and Chicanos adjust to life at Penn. At the same time, as unity in the Puerto Rican-American community grew, ACELA slowly became an organization
El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, became an organization that could support the exploration of Chicano culture, work to recruit Chicano students to Penn, and also work with the Penn community to build dialogue across campus and build a social conciousness within the Latino community. Later in 1979, and the early 1980s, MEChA and ACELA would be at the forefront of establishing ethnic studies programs at Penn and the Greenfield Intercultural Center at Penn. Members of MEChA and ACELA helped lead a sit-in at then-Penn President Martin Meyerson’s office in College Hall. MEChA, ACELA, the Black Student League and the United Minorities Council would be instrumental in establishing the GIC and the development of resources for students of color on campus. MEChA member Marc Rodriguez would serve as one of the first Chairs of the United Minorities Council in 1983. For the next decade, these organizations would work as members of the UMC to bring about positive change for Latino students at Penn, academically and socially.
LATINO COALITION REFORMATION
In 1994, students again discussed the idea of bringing together Latino students permanently in a formalized organization. With the previous efforts to unify Latino students, Latino student organizations saw the necessity of bringing together the Latino community permanently. Members of ACELA, MEChA, Sigma Lambda Upsilon Latina Sorority, and Lambda Upsilon Lambda Latino Fraternity along began to work with Boricua Latino Health Organization members to create this organization, a coalition of Latino students. With that, the Latino Coalition was reborn.
In 1995, a group of conscientious Latino students realized that they should take decisive action. Latinos at the University of Pennsylvania were and are grossly underrepresented at all levels: students, faculty, and administrators. To develop a unified voice and a comprehensive strategy to deal with under-representation, we formed a coalition of five Latino student organizations. These organizations have missions that range from cultural, professional, honor, arts, and social.
Over the next several years, the Latino Coalition worked to formulate strategies to address past difficulties in creating a permanent Latin American and Latino Studies program at Penn. The Latino Coalition, in an effort to jump start this effort contacted Professor Ann Farnsworth-Alvear of the History Department and Professor Jorge Salessi of the Spanish Department to lobby the University, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Academic Senate. In September 1996, the Latin American Studies major was approved by the university and the Latin American Cultures program became the Latin American Studies program.
As the Latino Coalition expanded, with the formation of several new organizations at Penn such as Wharton Latino, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Onda Latina Dance Troupe, Club Colombia, Mex at Penn and several graduates organizations such as the Latin American Law Student Association, the need for more student space would play a key role in Latino Coalition activities going into 1997-98.
CREATION OF LA CASA LATINA
With new found independence, the Latino Coalition embarked on an effort to redress the difficulties that the Latino community had encountered in receiving proper representation in the larger Penn community.
On April 21, 1998, one week after MEChA and ACELA left the UMC, members of the Latino Coalition led a protest down Locust Walk which culminated in presenting a list of demands for improving Latino student life to President Judith Rodin. This list would address issues of student recruitment, academic programming, increasing the presence of Latino professors at Penn and lastly, the creation of a student resource center based around Latino culture.
LATINO COALITION IN 2000-2001
After a short period, Dr. Soto left the University and La Casa Latina was left without a staff member by the end of the 1999-2000 school year. In the fall of 2000, a search for a new full-time Director of La Casa Latina was initiated by students and faculty. That search culminated in the hiring of Ana Maria Cobo, an Assistant Dean at Swarthmore College.
During the 2000-2001 school year, the Latino Coalition began an effort to formalize the coalition by creating a constitution and an executive board. The board would coordinate meetings and the Latino Coalition would reach consensus by having member organizations vote for consensus decisions on organizational issues.
In order to bring the Latino community’s voice directly to the Penn administration, the Latino Coalition made a request that the University Council, the main advisory council to Penn’s President, be given a seat on the council as there were no representatives on the body that were Latino. The University Council made the request
LATINO COALITION FORMATION
The Latino Coalition, the umbrella organization for all Latino student organizations at the University of Pennsylvania was originally formed in 1992. Latino Coalition was formed with the purpose of uniting Latino students behind an effort to support the tenure-ship of Latin American Studies and History Professor, Dr. Dain Borges. The organization protested a decision by the History Department not to grant tenure to Dr. Borges and lobbied the Department and the College to reconsider. Since the early 1970s, Latino students had begun to populate the University of Pennsylvania student body. However, during that time, Penn had not granted tenure to a Latino professor in that time, someone who provide mentorship and be a role model to a growing community at the university. Unfortunately, the actions of this small group of Latino students were not successful in bringing about change in a reconsideration of Dr. Borges’ effort for tenure. Afterwards the Latino Coalition dissipated and did not meet on a regular basis, becoming defunct by the end of 1993.
BREAKOFF FROM THE UMC
With growing numbers of Latino students active in LC groups and new groups forming, existing organizations that had space in the Greenfield Intercultural Center requested more space then the single room they inhabited at the GIC. MEChA and ACELA, founding members of the UMC and the Latino Coalition asked the GIC for the opportunity to create a second room for Latino student organizations at the GIC. With the permission of the GIC, these groups cleared out a storage room on the third floor of the GIC in order to make the room available for Latino students as their population had grown. However, a conflict arose as other organizations in the UMC objected to the Latino organizations having the expanded space. A vote was held by the UMC which revoked the space from the Latino student groups, creating a great deal of animosity between MEChA, ACELA and the UMC.
A growing sense that not only the UMC, but the University itself was not focusing on the concerns of Latino students grew with these actions. In repeated efforts to improve Latino student recruitment, to bring tenured Latino professors to the University and to create greater Latino programming on campus, Latino students were met with hesitation and inaction. Latino students were not represented in the Undergraduate Assembly, University Council and were not regularly consulted by Penn administrators in regards to issues in the larger minority community
In 1998, that changed, as Latinos voiced a common concern that their issues were being ignored within the UMC and moved to rectify these concerns. The only two Latino student groups in the United Minorities Council withdrew their membership from the UMC in protest of their handling of Latino issues. The Latino Coalition, which now consisted of 14 Latino student groups including ACELA and MEChA, unanimously decided that ACELA and MEChA should withdraw from the UMC at its general meeting.
ACELA President and Engineering junior David Villafana and MEChA President and College sophomore Milady Nazir requested to speak before the meeting formally began. They released a joint statement saying that the "UMC remains inadequately prepared to voice Latino concerns." Following the withdrawal, former ACELA President and College junior Tania Castro resigned her newly elected seat as UMC vice chairperson.
The debate about proper representation for Latino students was at the forefront of the move to leave the UMC. "The University was looking to the UMC as a political institution when in reality it was cultural," said MeCha Vice President Jonathan Cantu, a College sophomore. The Latino Coalition also felt that by remaining in the UMC, the Latino voice was not being clearly heard, according to Cantu. “We as Latinos are the best representatives of Latino issues. By remaining in the UMC, we were allowing the administration to see all minority issues as a big lump."