To address changes to Federal laws affecting Latino immigrants, one Western New Mexico University student organization has been recently reinvigorated and is sponsoring and hosting campus events that bring awareness to Latino issues and culture.
Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, more commonly known as MEChA, aims to support and advocate for Hispanic students through twice-a-week meetings and occasional advocacy events. Engaging students with the Chicano culture and building awareness about the political issues that affect Hispanic students is one of MEChA’s goals, said sponsor Bryant Chaffino, the Music Instructor in the Department of Expressive Arts who heads the university’s award-winning Mariachi Plata group and stepped in as MEChA’s faculty advisor this semester.
Other organization goals include ensuring there is a strong presence of the Hispanic culture on campus, advocating for the inclusion of more Hispanic history into WNMU curricula, and giving students a sense of belonging. MEChA also guides students through registering to vote or getting proper immigration documentation and helps them understand politics and government.
One of WNMU’s oldest student organizations, MEChA had been dormant for a few years until Chaffino, and colleagues Dr. Magdaleno Manzanares, Dr. Felipe Ortego, and Dr. Miguel Narvaez revived it.
Membership grew from 10 to 21 students this semester, partially because Chaffino began requiring Mariachi Plata members to participate. “They need to know their culture, mariachi’s history, and the role they play in continuing the legacy,” he said.
While many of the club’s members, whether Mexican-Americans or Mexican immigrants, are proud of and study their heritage, others need more schooling. “If it’s not on social media they don’t care,” Chaffino said.
Preventing apathy is key to student success in general, Chaffino says. “A lot of millennials — and I fall into that category myself — feel entitled and think they don’t have to work as hard as everybody else does. That’s one bad habit I’d try to break. This group has proven to me that not all millennials are feeling like they’re entitled. They’re willing to work. They know what’s going on. They keep up with current events. They’re all interested and ready to represent,” Chaffino said.
So far this semester, MEChA has organized one rally defending DACA students and held fundraising events. “They’ve already doubled their funds from last year,” Chaffino says.
At MEChA’s Monday and Wednesday meetings, the students circle up and discuss Chicano activism and current events.
“I didn’t know much about DACA, but I found out that a lot of my family is under DACA,” said MEChA Secretary, Darlene Chavez, who is a singer and violin player in Mariachi Plata as well as a Senator in the Associated Students of WNMU and an English tutor for WNMU-Deming. “We’re more enlightened on the whole issue and topic. It’s nice to learn the history of our culture so we can pass it on. It’s not about being one paragraph; it’s about having our own book.”
MEChA President Eliana Luna is a violinist in Mariachi Plata. The senior was one of the original MEChA members and has been active with the club since it started back up again three years ago. “As a social work major, I was able to really get more of an insight and understanding of speaking for the people, advocating for the people. It was a way to practice what I’d learned in class. Education is one of those weapons that never dulls,” she said.
MEChA historian Angel Almanza acts as Mariachi Plata’s lead trumpet player, is a member of the drum line for WNMU’s pep band, and plays trumpet in the school’s jazz ensemble. The sophomore says MEChA has educated him about a heritage he hadn’t considered much before enrolling at WNMU.
“I wasn’t really connected with my Hispanic roots growing up. Skin color doesn’t define who I am or what I do, but getting connected with my roots and my culture was enlightening. It makes fighting for our rights meaningful,” Angel said. “It teaches us how to be a family. It’s connecting with each other so we can get together and open each other’s minds up.”
Freshman and percussionist, Sergio Luis Salinas is the MEChA Treasurer and one of the leaders in Mariachi Plata. He enjoys the educational side of MEChA. “Until this year, I didn’t know DACA existed. Chaffino has educated me on that and on the past, like how Cesar Chavez fought for equality. I never realized how lucky we are. Because of their sweat and tears and blood, we get to live this happy life,” he said.
A member of the club for just three weeks, Salinas helped Chaffino put together the DACA rally and performed a piece of flash mob-style spoken word poetry during a Hispanic Heritage Month luncheon on campus. “That’s just the beginning. There’s way more to come,” Salinas said.
From Mexican candy sales to public forums, MEChA members are staying focused on creating a greater dialogue and presence on campus. The club’s next big event is a Chicano Street Fest that will take place in Old James Stadium on Thursday, October 12. The outdoor event will include live music, family games, and food vendors.
To keep up with what the club is doing on campus, follow MEChA de Western New Mexico University on Facebook or drop by the MEChA building (right next to the police station near the Student Memorial Building parking lot).