Mexican American Student Association members representing public and private educational institutions in San Antonio came together Nov. 19 at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. The members met to form a network of peers who can support each other when facing common issues.
Over 44 people attended including a group of students from John Jay High School who advocate for Hispanic rights. Representatives from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio College and Palo Alto College also attended.
This was the first leadership summit conducted by MASA at A&M-San Antonio. Although the event was meant to be a networking opportunity, MASA vice president Isa Rodriguez explained that pride in her heritage motivated her to unite with peers.
“I went to a Catholic school here in San Antonio,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t really talk about the issues that we wanted to talk about: the good, the bad and the ugly of history.”
After learning about colonialism, its consequences on indigenous Hispanic populations and later seeing its lasting effects in modern society, Masa President Crystal Martinez and Rodriguez said they were determined to run an organization that promotes diversity and pride on campus.
Students representatives discussed the importance of representation of Hispanic minorities in higher education and their experience as leaders in a predominantly Hispanic community.
Despite a short three-week window to plan the event, MASA officers Crystal Martinez and Isa Rodriguez say the reasoning behind the drive — to unite fellow Hispanic students — comes from the sense of community they feel among their peers.
“We’re minorities. We want to tell you its OK, we’re here for you,” Rodriguez said. “We motivate each other, and we tell each other, ‘We got you.’”
“It’s definitely an empowering thing to see,” said Victoria Herrera, MASA president at Our Lady of the Lake University. “It’s definitely an encouragement that we’re not alone as Mexican-American students. It’s not just at Our Lady of the Lake, it’s not just at UTSA, it’s not just at TAMU-SA, it’s everywhere.”
Students discussed the power in uniting to face common issues regarding their communities.
“We can become so isolated within our own institutions, as students and as student leaders,” said Vanessa Sandoval, an undergraduate intern at the Mexican American department at UTSA. “But a lot of us are all fighting the same thing within institutional racism, violence. When we come together, we can better support each other.”
The event started with opening remarks from Martinez and Rodriguez, who introduced speakers Dr. Adrianna Santos, assistant professor of English at A&M-San Antonio, and communications senior Rene Orozco who spoke about the progress of Mexican Americans in San Antonio and the lack of diversity in higher ed institutions.
Santos shared research showing a disparity between white and Hispanic representation in universities. According to her research, the Hispanic demographic still has the highest high school dropout rate in the United States at 12%.
“There are still budget cuts in education that threaten Mexican American Studies, that threaten women’s studies, that threaten continuing education programs, so we have to be constantly diligent, making sure that we’re keeping these programs for people,” Dr. Santos said.
Icebreaker exercise, which allowed students to network, were followed by a ballet folklorico performance by Grupo Folklorico de Bendiciones.
During an open forum, MASA leaders discussed organizational accomplishments and issues they’ve faced. Topics ranged from violence targeted at Hispanics in El Paso to the controversy surrounding the new mascot of San Antonio College, the Ranger.
Among the attendees was Somos La Gente, a group of student advocates pushing to change the mascot of SAC. According to the group, the mascot is inappropriate for an institution in a large Hispanic community because of the history associated with the Texas Rangers as a vigilante group that targeted Mexican Americans.
The controversy at SAC was one of the initial reasons that local MASA groups convened.
“It’s important for us to connect with them [other MASA programs] so we don’t feel alone,” Diana Flores, president of Somos la Gente, said. “This whole Ranger thing is not just about SAC, It connects the overall racism in our system and the college system and our community.”
According to Flores, support from student government and campus administration at SAC has been nonexistent. In response to their issues collaborating with other student organizations, La-Tieka Sims, president of the Student Government Association at A&M-San Antonio, was invited to present on how to advocate for representation on SGA leadership boards for the final portion of the summit.
“A&M-San Antonio is a young university and we’re still finding our footing in many ways, but we have so many creative and innovative minds coming in here that are passionate about the issues they’re seeing,” Sims said. “So what better resource to tap into than our peers at other universities who’ve already encountered it, and figured out a way to resolve it and taking and applying it to our campus.”
For students interested in joining the Mexican American Student Association, contact Crystal Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their page on Jagsync: https://jagsync.tamusa.edu/organization/mexican-american-student-association