Latinos see world of
difference in community
by Jenny Gerow
Davis, assistant dean of students (top left), meets with Latino
student leaders. Daviss major role is to provide a meeting
place for the Latino community, according to Spanish professor
Ricardo Padron. He acts as the middleman providing all
groups somewhere to go with their concerns, Padron said.
By Sarah Marchetti
professor Ricardo Padron says the Latino community at the University
has seen "dramatic and complete change" since he arrived
here as an undergraduate student in 1985.
I first got to U.Va., Hispanic/Latino students were completely
ignored and lumped together with all other minority students under
the Office of Minority Affairs," Padron said. "Now there
is a world of difference."
Padron signed up for his first class, there were only four other
Hispanic/Latino undergraduate students. Now Hispanic/Latinos account
for more than 60 grad students and 416 undergraduates at the University.
But theyre still one of the smallest minority groups on
Grounds, making up only about 3 percent of the Universitys
Latino and Latin-American students, faculty and staff are a diverse
group, coming to Charlottesville from countries as disparate as
Spain, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico, said Pablo Davis, assistant dean
of students who works closely with that community. No one Spanish-speaking
country has a dominant majority at U.Va., he said.
great diversity in backgrounds and ethnicity within the community
causes a "creative tension" among the different groups,
he said. There are several divisions within the community, especially
between international students and Americans of Latino descent.
Each of these groups has distinct characteristics and tends to
keep to itself, which contrasts with the American tendency to
lump racial and ethnic groups together.
I think we are seeing in the United States, and at U.Va., is a
process of 'ethnogenesis,' or birth of an ethnic identity,"
Davis said. "Many Latino students, especially those who are
international or who were born in another country and now live
in the U.S., do not consider themselves Hispanic or Latino until
they get here. Hispanic and Latino are American terms."
many students likely would categorize themselves as nationals
from their countries of origin, he said.
poses a problem of what to call people from Spanish-speaking countries.
Davis uses the terms Latino, Hispanic and Latin American, without
favoring any of them, in order to be inclusive.
Operé, associate professor of Spanish and director of the
Latin American/Hispanic Studies Program, believes that Latino
is a term coined by political activists to refer to those born
in the United States and reared in poverty. He uses the term Hispanic
as an expression of Spanish culture to refer to those of Spanish
and Latin American origin. Still others use the terms Hispanic
and Latino interchangeably.
biggest challenge facing this ethnically diverse group is communicating
with each other and finding common ground, which the Dean of Students
office and a number of student organizations are working on, Davis
Davis major function is to provide a meeting place for the Latino
community," Padron said. "He acts as the middleman providing
all groups somewhere to go with their concerns."
Dean of Students office offers a variety of resources for
Latino students, including mentoring, panel discussions and Conexiones,
a new program to foster Latino solidarity. Daniela de la Piedra,
a fourth-year student whose parents are Chilean and Peruvian,
works with Davis to implement this program.
was discouraged from participating in Latino events my first year
because attendance was so low," de la Piedra said. "I
went to one reception but didnt go in because there were
only a few people there, and thats intimidating to a first-year."
While programs such as Conexiones work to unite the community,
issues still divide Latinos at U.Va. Some of these issues are
unlike those faced by most Latinos in the U.S.
most college-age Latinos lack the resources to complete higher
education. While 75 percent of Latinos, 18-24 years old, enroll
in college, only half as many Latinos as whites graduate with
bachelors degrees, according to a recent study conducted
by the Pew Hispanic Center. And of the Latinos in higher education,
40 percent attend community colleges, the study noted.
young adults are the first generation in their families to attend
college and unaware of their options. Some who are qualified to
attend a four-year institution enroll in community colleges because
they didnt know a four-year program was open to them or
they couldnt afford it.
Latino population at U.Va. tends to be less marked by poverty
than elsewhere. Most come from professional families that immigrated
to the United States and are themselves college graduates, according
to Davis. Others are international students whose families are
financially secure, he said.
some Latino students overcame low expectations of families or
educators to matriculate at U.Va.
Almaraz, a fourth-year College student, attended Northern Virginia
Community College for two years before transferring to U.Va. She
said her parents are college graduates and always expected her
to attend college but felt pressure from NOVA Community College
administrators to attend a four-year institution close to home.
made you feel that you had to transfer to George Mason and did
not offer much information about other colleges," Almaraz
president of the Latino Student Admission Committee, Almaraz oversees
the committees two big events, Fall Blast and Spring Blast,
designed to attract Latino students to U.Va. During Fall Blast,
U.Va. students and admissions officers travel to Northern Virginia
and hold a reception and information session for Latino students
from 150 area schools. Spring Blast matches prospective students
with current Latino students for a weekend visit to Grounds. During
the weekend, the admissions committee holds social events and
panel discussions to help students decide if U.Va. is right for
U.Va. does not offer financial aid targeted specifically to Latino
students, which limits the number of underprivileged Latino students
who apply, she said.
Even so, Almaraz is optimistic about the growth of the Latino
community at U.Va. Last year, only 20 Latino students applied
early decision, while this year 69 students applied.
are hoping that the number continues to increase along with regular
decision applications," she said.
University officials share Almarazs optimism. Operé
said he is encouraged by the growth he has seen over the years.
French language was dominant by far when I came here 25 years
ago, and this has changed dramatically," he said. "Now
Spanish is the biggest language department at the University."