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Student revives Latinx Club to give York College students a place to feel at home

Alexa reading book outside

For the longest time, Alexis “Alexa” Rivera ’22 thought she was the only Latina student on campus. Faces she saw in the library, in classrooms, and around her dorm looked friendly yet foreign. As a first-year student at York College of Pennsylvania, Rivera felt lost.

She eventually found comfort in the College’s dining staff. There, she saw people who looked like her, spoke Spanish, and enjoyed the same types of food. One employee, Carmen, would take the time to talk to her. She’d save Rivera a plate of food if she missed Spanish Cultural Night, because she knew how much the first-year student missed her hometown of Bronx, New York.

“When you go to college, you aren’t just leaving behind your family,” Rivera says. “We are leaving behind our culture and our heritage. We are leaving behind traditions that are part of our identity.”

Rivera didn’t want to spend the rest of her college experience feeling this way. She asked her advisor if she could revive the Latinx Club. In its past form, the club mostly showed films, lacking deeper conversations and opportunities for relationships. Rivera saw it as her chance to reimagine the club and find Latino students who wanted the same things she did.

Finding each other

Rivera got in touch with students at York College who identified as Hispanic or Latino. She told them about the revival of the club and asked if they’d be interested in joining. Then, COVID-19 shut down campus. While her initial plans to have events, host potlucks, and gather in person weren’t a possibility, Rivera knew she could still make meaningful connections.

They started gathering in Zoom meetings. At first, their conversations were about getting to know one another. Each person in the call—most of them first-year students—had the same feelings Rivera did when they first came to campus. They thought they were alone, or at least part of just a few, who were Latino.

She hopes their conversations will grow deeper. She wants to talk about the oversexualization of Latina women. To discuss a lack of representation in government, in their classrooms, and even among their peers. She wants to talk about what it feels like to be generalized as Mexican and the public’s confusions with labels and languages.

“I wanted to start this club rather selfishly,” Rivera says. “I was so homesick. I wanted to eat Spanish food and listen to Spanish music. I worried about talking to my mom on the phone and people hearing me speak Spanish. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Building a diverse campus

Despite the virtual connection, Rivera believes the club is a place of community, where first-year students can make the kind of friendships she sought as a new student. Today, the club is called Sueño Latino, which means Latin Dream.

“My hope is that it stays a strong community that continues to grow and make this campus diverse,” Rivera says. “I want to be able to welcome new students on Accepted Student Day and say, ‘Look at this club. We’re a community. We’re a family, and we keep our heritage alive.’”