On Wednesday, September 14th, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Rafael Cintrón Latino Cultural Center (LCC) celebrated its 35th Anniversary. Rosa Cabrera, (new) Director of the LCC, organized the daylong program to commemorate the struggle to preserve this cultural and political space within UIC, as well as celebrate the longevity of its legacy 35 years later. The center was filled with multiple generations of students, activist, university faculty and community members invested in the establishment and development of this historic space.
Part of the daylong program included seven panelists representing the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, all of who worked to establish and advance the LCC. The panelists included two of the LCC founders, José López, Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, and Leonard Ramírez, former Director of the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) Program at UIC. Each spoke of how the LCC came through student activists who took-over University Hall in 1973 in protest to claim a space for Latin@s on campus. From their struggle, came the LCC, Latin American/Latin@s Studies Program, as well as the LARES Program. These initiatives opened the doors for more Latin@ students to have an opportunity for higher education at UIC. Hence, the 5 other panelists; Sara Agate, Claudio Gaete, Sofia Mohammad Castañeda, Jackie Rodríguez, and Willie Rodríguez, that represented each decade thereafter. Each panelist spoke of the different efforts used to promote, preserve, and continue the work of the LCC at UIC, as well as in the Latin@ communities throughout Chicago.
As the facilitator of the panel, as well as a former student leader of the Union for Puerto Rican Students at UIC, to me their stories represented a wide array of socio-historical-political junctures that Latin@s have not simply survived but thrived with historical and cultural pride.
by Judy Diaz