These are tempestuous times for immigrants in America. The highly xenophobic rhetoric of the administration has caused an unprecedented amount of terror among immigrant communities all over the country and even abroad. Now more than ever, international students have to show up to the table. They have to demonstrate that they are competitive, that they contribute, and that they are an irreplaceable and integral part of this country.
In the last election cycle, Latino immigrants were called all sorts of terrible things, and the toxic narrative of persecution and tough law enforcement against immigrants continues to frighten, offend, threaten and hurt millions families within and across the borders.
Last Friday, February 24, the Latin American students of NC State got together in an effort to celebrate and promote the work being done by members of their community in the triangle area.
Last week, the Latin American Student Association hosted its fourth research symposium showcasing the work of NC State, Duke and UNC graduate students from Latin America or students whose research focuses on this large and diverse region.
Those who had the opportunity to attend and venture into the minds and hearts of some insatiable researchers from the lands of magical realism would agree on that there was nothing more meaningful they could have done with their time that Friday evening.
When asked about the event, Fausto Ortiz, a PhD student in environmental engineering and the president of LASA, told us that “by holding this event, we establish firm connections between the members of our community that can help everyone grow personally, academically and professionally. But most importantly, we demonstrate that, despite the hardest times, Latin American researchers and professionals are very competitive and can prosper in any place they are living.”
The symposium was aimed at providing students with an opportunity to practice their communication skills and receive feedback and support from fellow students. It was organized as a competition and participants had 3 minutes to present their research projects and dazzle judges, faculty and other graduate students with their presentation and research skills.
Students currently doing their work in environmental sciences, education, engineering, life sciences, economics, mathematics and other areas presented posters of their research work. A multitude of topics were covered by the researchers, from environmental applications of complex networks in computer science to the manipulation of chromosomes to develop new lines of grasses. (You can find more about the works presented here.)
The first place award went to Catalina Salamanca from the department of industrial design for her work in innovative pediatric orthopedics to help treat developmental dysplasia on children’s hips. The second place went to Brendali Carrillo, from the department of parks recreation and tourism management, for her work on tourism management in Peru, and Danielle Lawson, also a researcher in the parks recreation and tourism management department, got the third place award for her research on promoting environmental literacy through intergenerational interactions among North Carolinians.To end the ceremony, the judges granted a honorable mention to Wilmer Reyes, a researcher in the department of forestry and environmental resources, for his work on ecohydrology and regulation of the world’s tropical water systems.
The event also featured a panel of guest speakers who inspired the attendees with some very powerful words of advice and encouragement to the broader Latino community. This year,Dr. Chelsey Ann Juarez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology,and Dr. Maria Correa, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, shared their unique experiences maneuvering through the American system and gave very practical tips on how to thrive as a professional and at a personal level as well. Their words were empowering, decisive and full of hope.
Doctor Juarez, a chicana with doctorate degrees from UC Santa Cruz whose parents came as immigrants from Mexico, gave a compelling presentation on the state of the Latino population in academia and showed in numbers how the number of latino faculty and administrative staff has been stagnant for the past 12 years, despite increased enrollment of undergraduate latino students. Doctor Juarez, noted that “Latino students do better when there are more latino students in the classrooms. They also do better when they have latino professors. They do better across the board.”
The word Latino is a broad and ambiguous term and it is easy for latin american student to get confused about their identity. With her speech, Doctor Correa, a Uruguayan professor with PhD degree in epidemiology from Cornell, reminded the attendees about the importance of carrying their roots proudly and cultivating a supportive community. In the words of Doctor Correa, “For those of you who want to stay in the US, remember that you are going to hear many things… we need to help one another because it is not easy”. Her words were an invitation to look back before moving forward. With her particularly spicy sense of humour, Doctor Correa offered the attendees her version of the comforting and wise words that any latin american mother would say: remember where you come from and you will know where you are going.
Latin America, the home to half a billion people, is a vibrant and diverse region of the world that is undergoing rapid transformations. Latin American is famous for being a vigorous laboratory for experimentation in the political and economic realms and Latin Americans are the funky result of these social experiments. Latin Americans are generally perceived as creative, curious, and hard-working people with a taste for risk-taking.
The symposium was a slashing success: a nourishing and enriching activity where the Latin American community proved they are a cohesive and inclusive community whose presence and contributions make this campus, North Carolina, and this country a bigger, more exciting, more interesting, and simply put, a better place.