This past Thursday, the Latin American Student Union (LASU) “kicked off” Latin Heritage Month.
Juan González, a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, visited Binghamton University to speak at LASU’s Latin Heritage Month Kickoff. Each year, LASU invites a speaker to the kickoff, particularly someone who is conducive to LASU’s values and significant to their annual theme. This year’s theme is “rebellion.”
González has won two George Polk awards for his career in investigative journalism.
Following fast-paced dance performances by Quimbamba, a Latino and African dance group at BU, González gave a speech describing his days as a member of the Young Lords, a revolutionary civil rights group during the 1960s and 1970s. González discussed his career in journalism and concluded the event with a Q&A period.
Lis Peguero, a political correspondent for LASU and a junior majoring in cinema, described the importance of celebrating Latin Heritage Month in recognition of Latinidad’s contributions to society.
“As an organization, LASU values the diversity that comes with Latinidad — that it’s not just dominated by what people think Latinidad should look like,” Peguero said. “It’s about the community, where we come from and celebrating how far we have come. LASU really tries to celebrate this when it comes to Latin Heritage Month because we feel it gets forgotten in mainstream portrayals of stereotypes and such. So, we always want to celebrate the diversity and everything that Latinidad has contributed to our society.”
LASU will be holding events in celebration of Latin Heritage Month every Tuesday and Thursday from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. This coming Tuesday, LASU invites students to watch the movie “Takeover” with them in UU209 at 7 p.m. “Takeover,” a documentary about the Young Lords, tells the story of how the Young Lords took over Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, with demands for health justice, according to Variety.
In his speech, González discussed the themes, strategies and importance of rebellion and activism, emphasizing creative thinking, the disruption of physical spaces and understanding a community’s actual needs.
González explained how to address community needs through a story about how the Young Lords went from home to home in Harlem, asking households what they needed most. The Young Lords felt the majority of Harlem wanted cleaner streets, and forced the sanitation department into negotiation by blockading Harlem with its own burning street trash, according to González.
Through his retelling of how the Young Lords secured housing licenses for over 100 squatters in abandoned federal housing, González explained the disruption of physical spaces in activism. The Young Lords were not able to access the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building, so they instead stormed Independence Hall across the street, according to González.
“It’s like a national shrine,’’ González said. “All the cops were in front of HUD, but there were only a few federal rangers in front of Independence Hall. So I said, ‘Let’s just take over Independence Hall — it’s a federal building, it will definitely get a lot of attention.’ So we took all of the families, marched them into the park and rushed them into Independence Hall.”
Around 150 students attended LASU’s kickoff. One of those students, John Cepeda, an undeclared freshman, said González’s speech inspired him.
“Me personally, I wasn’t very informed about the Young Lords, so this made me more interested in learning more about the stories from the Latin community,” Cepeda said. “I’m looking forward to learning more.”
Melanie Ibagon, president of LASU and a junior double-majoring in music and linguistics, said González’s speech embodied this year’s LASU Latin Heritage Month theme — rebellion in activism and a recognition of the Latinidad community’s contributions to society.
“I think [the speech] was really inspirational, especially in terms of activism because the [LASU] itself is very political,” Ibagon said. “Even last year when we did our protests, we aspired to continue activism on campus.”
As the event came to a close, González left the audience with a final message regarding what today’s generation can learn from the Young Lords.
“We freed our minds from thinking what the system tells us is the only way things can be,” González said. “We can change history. We can change our own society.”