3 Generations of Latinos

Three Generations of Latinos offers a more recent history of the experience of Latino students at the University of Michigan. By looking at three different points in this history we can see how the actions of a few leaders, can have a huge influence on the lives of those not only in the present but also into the future.

Our three points on lived experience are separated by about 20 years.  Jaime Chahin attended Michigan in the 1970sRichard Nunn was an undergraduate in the 1990s and is now a doctoral student in Higher Eductaion. Lastly, we have Alex Mullen, who is a student leader at Michigan today (2018). Their stories help us to understand the history of Latinos at Michigan and the many different organizations that have helped to build community for Latinos on this campus. While one theme that emerges from these stories is the lack of continuity in many of these organizations, projects like this one help to build that continuity as we hear words of wisdom from past leaders and present students.

Jaime Chahin, is currently a Dean and Professor to Texas State University. He was recruited into Michigan back in the 1970s. Dr. Chahin was at Michigan during a high point of student activism, and he participated in many student-lead initiatives that challenged the invisibility of Latinos on campus. For example, he recalls his work with the “The Third World Coalition,” a mix of leaders from various communities such as Chicanos, African Americans, and Native Americans. Like today, students on campus felt the pressures of having to overcome obstacles faced in a predominantly white institution. One of the organization’s biggest actions occurred when they staged a sit in, at what is now known as the Fleming building. When they refused to leave the then president Robben Flemming threatened to have them arrested for trespassing, but they demanded that their voices be heard. Similar to the demands that many students of color are making today, they too wanted more representation in administrative, staff, and faculty positions. Hundreds of students participated and after a couple of days, the administration finally decided to negotiate with some of their demands. Dr. Chahin recalled that some of them were given funding to go recruit minority students and they were also given a child care center that later became a cultural arts center.

Minorities Occupy Admin Building

For Dr. Chahin, the biggest challenge for young Latinos is making change that can make a difference:

“You know you don’t just do it for the money, you do it because you want to change something…And I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned in Ann Arbor about change and how you go about bringing change, institutional change, transformational change. I think as we grow and mature as adults that is our biggest challenge. How do we engage in change that is transformational and that makes a difference for the public good?”

A common theme in the Latino community is that there are groups of leaders that emerge and make great impacts both on and off campus, but eventually they graduate and their previous work is forgotten or is not picked up by the newer generation. This is the case for many Latinos organizations such as La Voz Mexicana or the Michigan Latino Assembly.

La Voz Mexican (later la voz latina) 1999


                                La Voz Mexicana (1999)

Institutional change takes time, but people like Richard Nunn have continued the struggles that Dr. Chahin and others started. They have been fighting to make this change possible.

Richard Nunn.jpg

Richard Nunn is a third year PhD student in higher education who started his undergraduate degree back in 1998. To him, getting into college was something that was influenced by luck. He told a story of having never really focused too much on education when he was younger. But that changed after he attended a campus visit and saw a “new world” when he was welcomed by previous Latina/o students. He says that if it had not been for the support of his mother he would not be where he is today. Today many people know Rich. He has been on campus for many years and has been a mentor to many different generations. What some might not know however, is that he founded many of the organizations that present Latina/os benefit from such as Pilot, Lambda Theta Phi, and the ALMA program. Nunn did not want students to have to rely on luck to understand their full potential. He also understands the importance of mentorship and believes that faculty and staff play a major role in leading by example and supporting students in their efforts to make institutional change. He was one of the founders of  Assisting Latinos to Maximize Achievement (ALMA), a four-day orientation program designed to help incoming Latino students transition from high school to college. What started off with Nunn going dorm to dorm inviting students to barbecues to try to connect Latinos, has turned into a program where both participants and volunteers come together as a community. What is unique about this program, is that often times it has created many of the leaders that are seen on campus. The organization is student run; core members prepare to welcome new generations of Latinos and pass this responsibility on to new members the following year. A testament to ALMA’s importance is the fact that it has been around for over 17 years. Like Dr. Chahin, Nunn offers important advice to incoming Latinos:

“I think that students should feel comfortable challenging things. If you’re in a space where things don’t make sense, raise your voice and ask questions. Figure out what is going on, be confident. Your needs are your needs. No one else on campus is an expert on the needs of Latinx students than Latinx students themselves.”

Throughout the years, Latina/o students have been involved in many organizations, sometimes at the same time. Though different groups of Latinos have formed community through programs such as ALMA, SHPE, or Latino Greek Life, until very recently, there was no organization where everyone could come together. But in 2017 that changed when the Latinx Alliance for Community Action Support & Advocacy (La Casa) was created. For the first time in years, hundreds of Latina/os began to meet on a regular basis. While still a very young organization, La Casa has managed to bring together Latinx folks from across campus.

Alex Mullen.JPG

Alex Mullen, the current internal director is the second generation of leadership within La Casa with its first being individuals such as Yvonne Navarrete, Antonio Gallegos, and Melissa Ramirez. Mullen was also the product of ALMA and has been an active member in the Latinx community. Something unique about La Casa, is that it allows its members to be actively engaged. This was achieved by not only having weekly meetings, but also having 5 different task forces.

  1. Empowerment: That helps create events on and off campus that empower Latinx students.
  2. Cultura: Makes events that connect students to Latinx culture.
  3. Political Advocacy: Addresses issues related to policies that affect Latinx people around the country.
  4. Academia: Connect students with resources that will help them reach academic success
  5. Community Service: Plan events that do community service.

Through the guidance of people like Richard, La Casa is continuously making positive change on campus. While the University sees this movement as something new and, at times seems not to know how to go about dealing with Latina/o students who are actively challenging the status quo, the truth is that Latino organizations have been fighting for their rights since the earliest years of the University. But La Casa knows very well that they too risk the dangers of not having continuity. For that reason, a recent program within La Casa has been formed known as “Leadership Academy.” This is an opportunity for early undergrads to learn what it is like to run an organization. Through workshops and meetings with different members of administration, La Casa is preparing these individuals to not only be future leaders but also be qualified to run for e-board positions in organizations they are a part of. In fact, this semester the majority of the students that will be on La Casa’s e-board for Fall 2018 participated in the program. Many of the older leaders from La Casa took Dr. Maria Cotera’s class on the history of Latinos at the University of Michigan and were able to learn about the history that was once forgotten. Mullen explained La Casa’s hopes:

“One of the goals that we have been focusing on and continue to focus on, is how do we make sure that our actions, our movements, and our spaces we are creating right now are sustainable? Like how do we make sure that they don’t die off like the rest of the organizations that have been here? How do we make sure that we are still here 30, 40, 50 years later?”

Mullen recalls La Casa’s experience visiting a Latinx organization at Michigan State University known as Culturas de las Razas Unidas (CRU), and how they have been around since 1990. Furthermore, La Casa has been actively building coalitions with different organizations such as the Arab Student Association (ASA) and the Black Student Union (BSU). Often fighting for similar rights, these communities have the power to make positive change in the lives of future generations.

The story of 3 Generations of Latinos is the story of an ongoing battle where like many marginalized communities, Latinx communities must overcome institutional racism.

The story of 3 Generations of Latinos is a story of how leaders organized and made change, time after time.

 The story of 3 Generations of Latinos is a story of a people that will not be defeated.

Below you can see excerpts from the three interviews: