Celebrating Latino/a Heritage Month

Lorri Olan

To the Editors:

Oberlin is a wonderful place to come of age. It attracts students and faculty with broad interests, strengths and gifts. Students grapple with issues of identity and purpose, explore life’s possibilities and their natural gifts, and learn to make their way in the world. As graduates, alumni commit themselves to advancing social justice, developing technology for science and health, serving the public, conscientiously managing businesses, reducing their carbon footprint, advancing educational opportunities for all, improving their communities and, in countless other ways, leaving their mark on the world, one step at a time.

I have reached that certain age where you wonder if you have become who you thought you would be or accomplished what you set out to do. While I certainly failed to take advantage of opportunities available to me as a student, I refuse to kick myself for it now. Instead, I revel in the opportunity to learn as an adult and continually engage in new adventures. Everyone needs a guiding hand to support or push him or her now and again. Oberlin, and the many interesting and caring people I meet through working with the college, enables me to offer support to others.

Connecting my past with the present, I am involved in Oberlin Latino/a Alumni Association’s efforts to establish a strong community for current and future members. While access to education is a huge hurdle, even those with access need support and guidance — I know I did. My Upward Bound students did, too.

Support services for Latino/a students have improved since the 1980s. The Multicultural Resource Center supports students in a variety of ways, including connecting them to each other and to the larger Oberlin/Lorain community. Student members of Alianza and ABUSUA tutor students in the local community — providing them with a different image of Latinos and African Americans than they see on television. This activity improves understanding and creates new “community.”

To celebrate Latino/a Heritage Month, the MRC collaborated with Hispanic Studies and student organizations to host a series of events that garnered packed houses with students and community members alike. Conservatory alumnus Marco Antonio Labastida, tenor, gave a guest recital at Kulap at Arizona State University. Labastida spoke about “mixed race Latinos.” His presentation inspired plans for a future symposium on mixed race and mestisaje in Latin America. Of course, no Latino/a celebration would be complete without dancing. I was delighted to share the dance floor with OLAA Board members and dozens of students, wishing we had salsa night when I was a student!

The dedicated students, MRC staff, Hispanic Studies faculty and staff all deserve our gratitude and appreciation for a job well done. I encourage them to continue their support efforts and to build bridges and alliances. No one can do it alone. Mark your calendars now to celebrate Latino Heritage Month, Columbus Day weekend in 2011 with a Latino/a reunion!

OLAA members have big hearts, deep laughter and broad smiles. We desire to support students by sharing experiences, struggles and triumphs. We want Oberlin to maintain its diverse student body and expand its number of diverse faculty and staff, but we also want to preserve the “family” beyond college. Students, you have alumni all over the world who will happily help any way they can. You need only ask. Contact us through OBIEweb.

Change is inevitable; growth is optional. This holiday season, give the gift of time to someone or an organization. Giving is a gift that benefits us all. Each one, reach one.

–Lorri Olan, OC ’87
At-Large Member, Alumni Association Executive Board Steering Committee, Oberlin Latino Alumni Association 1987 Co-Class President