M.E.Ch.A de UCLA's 22nd Annual Raza Youth Conference
by Ernesto Valles, UCLA Blum Center Assistant
Over 1,000 students lined up on a Saturday morning, February 28, 2015, in front of a registration table at Wilson Plaza (UCLA). Many of these students are from schools in neighboring areas, but among them are others who made over a two-hour drive to attend M..E.Ch.A. de UCLA's 22nd Annual Raza Youth Conference, "Conscious of my Historia, Embracing my Roots, Today I am Resilient." For twenty-two years, Raza Youth Conference has provided middle school, high school, and community college students with information regarding the college application process, as well as exposure to various academic, political and culturally relevant workshops. Additionally, parents, educators, and community leaders are given information and tools to assist students in pursuing higher education and developing as community leaders.
As the opening ceremony came to an end, conference attendees began to make their way into Pauley Pavilion where they were welcomed by the co-chairs, Bryon Alvarez, a fourth-year Political Science major and Education Studies minor, and Rafael Garibay, first-year business economics major. The co-chairs began by expressing how thrilled they were to see that the number of attendees had double from last year's conference. Furthermore, they went on to introduce the conference's theme, which intended to encourage students to recognize and acknowledge their history, be proud of their roots, and be resilient even in the toughest times. Following the co-chair's welcoming speeches was an introduction to this year's keynote speaker, Dr. Michael A. Rodriguez.
Dr. Rodriguez, our Center's Director, opened by sharing his story growing up as a first-generation Latino from parents who emigrated from Mexico and El Salvador. Growing up in a working class family motivated him to do well academically and eventually pursue a career in the medical field. However, there were a couple of experiences along the way, which made aiming for his career possible. One of those experiences involved the moment he learned the importance and power of communidad. Dr. Rodriguez shared that communidad became "something bigger than me and my familia...it planted a seed in me." As a community, support and the urge to help each other out is key to one's success. In staying align with the theme, he went to explain that communidad is remembering where you come from, keeps you grounded in who you are, and allows you to see the bigger picture, that no matter how challenging an obstacle may seem, overcoming it is not just your success, but rather that of an entire community.
At the UCLA Blum Center, our goal is to improve poverty and health in Latin American communities. We believe that education and having a sense of unison is crucial for success. Recognizing this will open many doors for a postive change. It is with this in mind, that Dr. Rodriguez concluded by sharing a quote he once came across, "Education is the key, change is our goal."