Dinner with a side of diplomas

Latino students’ achievements were celebrated at Valley with a cultural twist.

By Ricardo Varela, Editor-in-chief

The smell of carne asada, the sound of a jovial son jarocho band and elegant dance routines brought Latin flavor to the Student Union Plaza Wednesday evening for Día de Reconocimiento. Approximately 80 of the more than 300 attendees were Valley College students earning a certificate or associate degree this semester, and many are transferring to four-year institutions this fall.

Students at the event, which translates to “day of recognition,” were presented with a medal that may be worn as part of commencement regalia during the evening’s closing ceremony by either Student Success & Support Services Dean Marco De La Garza or Chicano Studies professor Pete Lopez. The brass-colored medal reads “Los Angeles Valley College: Mi comunidad” and is suspended from a ribbon woven in the school’s colors.

“Wear your medals at graduation so that people know Latinos are graduating,” Vice President of Student Services Florentino Manzano said to the crowd.

andradeRicardo Varela / Valley Star

Volunteers from Mi Comunidad, a Student Equity Plan group, and the Associated Student Union served guests at dinner, the opening part of the event. The menu, catered by Carrillo’s Mexican Deli, consisted of red rice, refried beans, carne asada and chicken fajitas. Sides included corn and flour tortillas, pico de gallo salsa, guacamole and red and green salsas. Chips and salsa, a staple appetizer, was also offered. Canned and bottled drinks were available as well.

Conjunto Hueyapan, a son jarocho musical group from Oxnard, imparted a taste of the music and culture of the Mexican state of Veracruz, both sonically and visually. Their relaxed, airy and tropical music was propelled by the delicate plucking of their dual harp and jarana jarocha players and conjured the seaside ambiance of Veracruz’s capital city on the Gulf of Mexico.

They were joined in a display of music and dance by several young men and women of Nuestras Raíces, a Gardena-based non-profit cultural group. The 250 students in the group all have aspirations of attending universities and colleges, and their director, former Valley College Spanish professor Dr. Argelia Andrade, ensures that by “providing performance, cultural, and educational opportunities for our students,” according to her website.

The event closed with the presentation of the medals to students. They were handed a microphone and invited to give thanks to who they wished and to reveal what college or university they were attending next. Family members, professors, counselors and staff were all lauded, sometimes through tears, for the inspiration and support they give students. A group picture was taken before the night concluded.

tovarBelen Campirano / Valley Star

“We want to have students feel proud of their culture and the positive impact that it has on students achieving their academic goals,” EOPS counselor Alma Olivares-Luera said. “As students share their experiences and struggles, they realize that they have a lot in common and that they share qualities, such as a strong work ethic, resiliency and a ‘si se puede’ attitude that gets them through the challenges of a higher education. I believe all of these qualities are a result of our culture and our values.”

The evening was chiefly conducted in Spanish by Manzano and Olivares-Luera, but English was the common tongue. Valley President Dr. Erika Endrijonas delivered a welcome speech praising students for their scholastic efforts, their families for supporting them and faculty and staff, but she opened with a brief and humorous statement in Spanish. In all, it was a celebration of students and their families’ native cultures while extolling their achievements.

“We don’t have to give up our culture to adopt this one,” Andrade said to students.

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