The Multi-Racial Student Organization and the Latin American Student Organization collaborated to discuss the intricacies of a mixed community


Students gathered around tables in the Wilden atrium on Monday to hear Coba Canales, dean of Spiritual Life, speak at the Mutli-Racial Student Organization’s (MRSO) event. Joining the members of MRSO were members of the Latin American Student Association (LASA), by special invitation. 

Since beginning last August, MRSO has used its pilot year to build an intimate core group of members. The nature of MRSO means that there is a lot of overlap between this club and other ethnic organizations on campus. MRSO president Hanae Gonzalez said that because of this, MRSO invites those other organizations to participate in the events they host. 

This event centered on the mixed-race experience within a Latin-American context. Canales shared his experience growing up with a Mexican father and a Caucasian mother in the diverse city of Carson, Calif. 

Because he spent most of his time with his father’s family, Canales said he felt most comfortable within the Mexican community. However, as a mixed-race kid, he would get called names like “sunshine” and “white boy” by his friends and family growing up. 

“I didn’t identify with it at all, but that was the identity given to me by my community,” Canales said. 

That experience flipped when he began college first in Pennsylvania, then at Azusa Pacific. 

“Suddenly I was the ‘Mexican’ or ‘Spanish’ dude,” Canales said. 

Throughout the night, students across the room echoed this feeling of ‘otherness’ as they recounted their experiences.

“You will always get identified with the other race in any given context,” said junior social work major Dominique Hernandez. “I feel like I have to prove myself even now.” 

For those who have grown up mixed and disconnected from their culture, the feeling can be even more alienating. Many students present were the children or grandchildren of immigrants who didn’t teach their children their native language or culture’s customs because they wanted them to assimilate to American culture. 

With the message of assimilation drilled into them, many students’ parents, as a result, do not understand their children’s desire to reconnect with their culture. One student said she felt she was often trying the reverse: to assimilate back into her own culture. 

Despite this feeling, others agree the Latin-American community is generally warm and welcoming. Students remarked that most of the time, the “we got your back” mentality extends from the Latin-American community to all races. 

Canales said that another thing he loves about the Latin-American community is the work ethic. 

“I have been inspired by the ethic of hard work without complaining,” Canales said. “That translates to my approach in the workforce and academically.” 

Perhaps this work ethic comes from the same place that the Latin-American community’s strong commitment to faith does. When asked if he sensed a difference between Dios and God, Canales brought up liberation theology. 

“[I feel that] Dios has more power than God — He sees those who are marginalized and disenfranchised, whereas God might not have those immediate connotations,” Canales said. “When people immigrated to America, God was literally all they had. They couldn’t rely on money, family or anything like that. In those spaces, a deeper reliance on God creates a deeper awareness of who He is.” 

A deeper awareness is reflected in the mixed-race experience, too, as individuals struggle to find their place in the world. Though they often feel they can’t fit fully one thing or another, Gonzalez said that she hopes MRSO can be both a safe space for mixed-race students and a bridge between ethinic organizations on campus and the main student population. 

MRSO meets every other Monday at 7 p.m. in Wilden 119.