Isabel Casas said she remembers perfectly the first time she came to CSUN to participate in the Raza Youth Conference. It was last year, when she was undecided on the college she wanted to attend.
“I was accepted to CSUN, but when I came to the MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan) conference it helped me to decide on CSUN because I felt I was already a part of it,” Casas said, adding everyone was friendly to her.
Several students had the opportunity to have the same experience Casas did.
About 200 students, parents and teachers from several high schools and middle schools in Los Angeles and other areas attended the 8th Annual Raza Youth Conference March 11.
The conference, titled “Achieving Liberation Through Higher Education,” was organized by MEChA and offered about 30 workshops and cultural entertainment.
Carlos Moran, president of MEChA, said the conference was made to inspire and empower minority students through cultural, social and political workshops.
Students “learned about their history,” he said. “It gives them a sense of appreciation.”
“Education is a form of liberation, not in a sense of violence, but liberation of your consciousness to educate their thinking,” Moran said.
Workshops about financial aid and California’s several college systems of higher education were mandatory for students to attend, Moran said.
“This is the first time (they) get to know the (systems) of higher education,” he said, adding there are differences between the CSUs, UCs, community colleges and private colleges.
Casas, freshman English major, said the experience of attending the conference as a high school student is “not only to get a sense of the culture, but a sense of the community.”
The conference created cultural and educational awareness, Casas said, adding that “it helps us to see higher education is possible.”
Casas said she was encouraged by her family to attend a university and was the first in her family to do so.
One of the goals of the event was to encourage more Latinos students go to college, due to the “high drop out (rates) of Latinos in schools,” said Rosa Furumoto, Chicano/a Studies professor, who participated in the event.
Furumoto said teaching that education can really be a pathway in students’ future can “change the future of our people and our history.”
Edgar Alarcon, a 14-year-old high school freshman, said he knows he wants to go a university. He said he is considering applying to UCLA or Stanford to study archeology or a similar field. If successful, he will be the first member in his family to go to college.
Alarcon, of Santa Fe High School, said education will help him a live better life in the future.
“I can get a profession,” he said. “I know there are more opportunities. I’ll have better jobs, better living conditions.”
“I can help my family and give back to the community,” he said.
Elida Gomez, a 29-year-old teacher from El Sereno Middle School, brought about 45 of her students to the youth conference to expose them to the college atmosphere.
“They really enjoy just seeing the campus, to see the enthusiasm that they don’t get to see,” Gomez said.
Many minority students do not go to college due to the lack of role models in their families and within their communities, Gomez said.
“For some, financial aid is an issue,” she said, adding that some cannot afford to pay for college.
Gomez said she tells her students, “Without education, you close the door to other opportunities.”
The workshops were helpful to her students, Gomez said, and some began to consider college as an option, when before attending the conference, higher education was not on their minds.
It was the first time for several of the students to be on a college campus, Moran said.
“(It’s) really one of the first times they get to experience culture awareness,” he said. “They see a large amount of people that look like them, dress up like them and come from the same place.”
Karina Ceja, senior Chicano/a studies major and coordinator of conference, said during the conference, MEChA distributed scholarship applications to students because many attended the event to receive information about them.
“Most of them want to know how they get in, and how to stay in college,” Ceja said.
Lourdes Loera, a 17-years-old senior in Options for Youth, a charter high school that has several locations in Southern California, plans to attend college to study psychology or interior design.
Through the mandatory workshops, Loera said she learned helpful information about financial aid.
She said the workshops taught students significant information they must know on how to apply and stay in college, Loera said.
Loera, who is the oldest in her family, said it is a necessity to enroll in college to be a role model for her younger siblings.
“Better future, better income, and better family,” are just some of the reasons of why Loera is considering college.
Gabriela Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.