From April 6 to 8, LASA hosted 30 local high school students as a part of their annual Latinos Serving Latinos (LSL) conference.
Every fall semester, high school females are welcomed on campus as a part of Latinas Serving Latinas, while high school males are served each spring.
This semester’s festivities included participating in chapel and APU classes as well as engaging with Chicano student activists through a movie screening of “Walkout” and a dodgeball tournament to end one of the conference nights. Students also got the chance to hear Mayor Joseph Romero Rocha speak alongside other community members about the Latino experience.
“Meeting the mayor was my favorite part of the conference. He really connected with me and brought emotion to his speech,” high school senior Jonathan Cruz said.
Currently finishing his last year at Northview High School, Cruz plans to attend Cal Poly Pomona to further his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer in the future.
Activist Jesse Ceniceros presented the conference’s keynote address on Saturday. Born in East Los Angeles and raised in the 1960s, Ceniceros grew up listening to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix while also feeling the repercussions of discriminatory movements like the Zoot Suit Riots in 1943. Meeting his wife in junior high, he considered himself lucky to have a stable family from a young age.
As the breadwinner of his family, young Ceniceros began his career working for metal products and aeronautical systems industries. After spending seven years at a particular company that provided little worker’s compensation for injured workers, Ceniceros began to speak up about the injustices he was seeing which eventually led to his dismissal from his current job.
But Ceniceros expressed zero regret toward his choices.
“No issue should be too small or too big for everyone, despite one’s ethnicity, to fight for,” he said.
After experiencing personal injury on the job, Ceniceros became all the more politically active, calling his representatives and making allies with other activists in order to make his case and fight for others who have been in his same position, connecting with labor leader Dolores Huerta and the Dolores Huerta Foundation as well.
“I truly believe that it was the Lord’s work. He had something different for me than I had for myself: to stand up for the injured in California,” Ceniceros said in his speech.
Ceniceros considered it a privilege to speak to male high school students about his experiences, hoping that he’s able to inspire young minds to get involved in their communities.
“At my age, you start wanting young people to be enthusiastic about taking up something larger than themselves and by learning through your life lessons, you hope that they won’t struggle as much as you did,” Ceniceros said.
After the keynote address, LASA members gathered participants in a circle to conduct bonding activities, debriefing what the conference had meant for each student. In one particular activity, students were given the opportunity to commit to carrying out a single act inspired by the conference’s empowering theme. Many students committed to applying for scholarships, coming back to LSL next year and dedicating themselves to a future career of making their families proud.
LASA members have conducted this conference for the past six years, hosting a total of 12 conferences in total. This year, LASA President, senior Applied Exercise Science major, Kasandra Gomez stood as acting conference director alongside LASA members. Gomez stated the joy of witnessing the empowerment of high school students who are inspired to pursue higher education as a result of the conference.
“I was a delegate during [LASA’s] 2013 conference, so I remember being in [the students’] position…A delegate from my freshman year came back and joined LASA. Seeing everyone graduating [high school] and joining us on the other side is the best part of it all.” Gomez said.
LASA member Luiz Figueroa, a sophomore biochemistry major, sees the importance of relating with other students.
“It’s a very humbling thing to share my story with these kids and tell them to keep pursuing their higher education. It makes me appreciate what God has given me and the doors He’s opened up for me,” Figueroa said.
As the closing ceremony commenced and the conference came to a close, students left campus with the knowledge of a support system on the other side.
“It’s a really transformational experience not only for yourself but for the students as well,” LASA Vice President and junior Biology major Kelly Valenzuela said.