The walls inside Room 130 in Jerome Richfield Hall are nearly completely covered with Chicana/o and Latina/o art, protest posters and photographs of demonstrating social justice activists who all happen to be young students. A red flag with the United Farm Workers’ black eagle in the center hangs above a wide table where several MEChA students sit and talk.
Among those is 27-year-old graduate student Lucia Laguna, a self-described veteran activist and community organizer with eight years of experience under her belt.
At a young age, Laguna felt helpless for the immigrant and Latina/o community, which she said was under attack shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 anti-immigrant backlash.
“I started perusing activism because I was just really tired of feeling helpless,” Laguna said.
“I could see things getting worse in the news and in my community, and it just got to this point where I just asked myself, ‘I can either cry about it or I can do something about it.’”
Laguna first ventured into the world of activism during her time at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster.
She was motivated to organize a student group on campus after her Antelope Valley College professors made a bold attempt to get rid of ethnic studies classes, including Chicana/o studies, African-American studies and Asian-American studies, a year after the entire active and militant Black Student Union graduated.
Laguna’s student organization argued for not only the preservation of ethnic studies courses, but the need for more as well. At the time, Antelope Valley College had 14 African-American studies classes, two Chicana/o studies classes (without Chicano/a professors teaching) and one Asian-American studies class, Laguna said.
“They claimed that they were not against ethnic studies,” she said. “They were just ‘for’ the ‘classics.’”
Years later in 2005, HR 4437, dubbed the anti-illegal immigration and anti-terrorism bill, was introduced and passed in the House of Representatives, which further criminalized both undocumented immigrants and the employers that hired them.
The passing of the bill further pushed Laguna to reach out to immigrant rights groups in Los Angeles, including MEChA chapters at UCLA and CSUN. She then began to take activism more seriously.
“It wasn’t activism anymore. It was a way of life,” she said. She also encourages students, regardless of ethnic background, to get more involved at CSUN and organize against the recent permission number freeze here on campus and escalating budget cuts in public education.
“I think it’s really fascist,” she said. “This whole permission number freeze has never happened. All the years I have been here, it has never happened. People have always been able to add.”
Laguna is currently in school to get her master’s degree in social work, and after she completes her education, she plans to pursue a career in social work, with a focus on rehabilitation and prevention for at-risk youth and sentenced adolescents.
“Ethnic studies has been known to be an affective form of prevention because students take pride in who they are and what they are,” Laguna said. “And that’s dangerous to the people in power—that’s why they don’t want it.”