Amplifying Latinx Voices creates an environment that promotes inclusion

David Matos, Associate Arts & Life Editor

Three students read pieces regarding their cultures and identities alongside Quinnipiac professor J.T. Torres.
Three students read pieces regarding their cultures and identities alongside Quinnipiac professor J.T. Torres. (David Matos)

Everyone has a story to tell, and this celebratory event of Latino identity and culture provided a safe space for voices that are often overlooked.

Amplifying Latinx Voices is an educational program that offers a public platform for Latino faculty and students to voice their personal experiences with identity, ancestry and belonging.

The first event took place Sept. 28, and included readings from three students and Dr. J.T. Torres, an assistant professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Olivia Barrios-Johnson, a sophomore journalism major in the 3+1 program, is Black and Mexican and was taught to celebrate where she comes from. She kick-started the night with a reading from her staggering essay that she wrote for Associate Teaching Professor of English Dr. Jason Koo’s Academic Writing and Research class last spring. Her natural hair is a crucial part of her identity and in her essay, she discussed ongoing racism and discrimination against it.

“Maintaining policies and procedures rooted in white supremacy that discriminate against natural hair enables virtually any establishment to afflict their biases on Black people,” Barrios-Johnson read.

Barrios-Johnson claimed that natural hair discrimination is an ongoing issue many Black people face today.

“Since the time of slavery, the hair of Black people, especially Black women’s hair, has been ridiculed and deemed ‘bad hair’ because of its thickness and texture,” Barrios-Johnson read.

A Texas high school suspended a student from school because of his dreadlocks. A Louisiana high school dismissed a student from her cheerleading team because of her hair texture. Both fell victim to the discriminatory hair policies that are often set in place in educational institutions or the workplace.

Black women often undergo damaging processes, like straightening their hair, in hopes of being accepted within a white-dominated society. Barrios-Johnson claimed that the pressure to do so causes immense stress and anxiety. Black women are expected to abandon their natural hair in favor of hair standards better suited for white people.

She ended her essay with a moving message for Black women.

“As a Black woman, you are beautiful when you wear your natural hair,” Barrios-Johnson read. “As a Black woman, you do not have to conform to societal beauty standards. As a Black woman, your hair stands out because you were made to stand out. As a Black woman, your afro defies gravity because you are out of this world.”

The event is part of the creative writing program’s “Yawp!” series and the Latinx Heritage Month programming.

Alisa Mejia, a junior psychology major, read two poems she wrote about her experience growing up in the Bronx. Her first poem titled “Church” is about her time in Catholic school. The poem expressed her complex relationship with religion. Being solely surrounded by Catholic imagery caused Mejia to reexamine her stance within the Catholic Church.

Her second poem titled “An Ode to a Lone Rose” is inspired by her upbringing in the Bronx and Tupac Shakur’s poem, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete.” The poem highlights Mejia’s appreciation and gratitude for where she came from because of its impact on who she is today.

“Here is an ode to the lone rose that helped a young girl keep in mind that there is more to the world to see, past the only street she had known for years,” Mejia read.

JulieRose Rivera, a senior criminal justice major who discovered her love for poetry in Koo’s Intro to Poetry class last fall, read two poems. The first poem titled “It’s Just Me” is about the reality check she experienced on her first day at Quinnipiac University. Rivera revealed that when she walked into her first class, she immediately realized that she was the only Hispanic woman there.

“To continue on a path to a future to allow others to not experience this feeling,” Rivera read. “Allowing myself to open a door so no one experiences the thought, ‘it’s just me.’”

Only 21% of first-year students at Quinnipiac University identify as people of color.

Her second poem titled “Half and Half” is about her experience being mixed race. Rivera is Puerto Rican and Irish and unveiled that people are often confused when they learn this. She claimed that people often have certain expectations when it comes to race and feels they can dictate other people’s identity and appearance because of it.

Rivera expressed that she experiences discrimination from both racial groups she identifies with. Despite people not being willing to accept the reality of her biracial identity, she knows who she is and accepts and celebrates her two cultures.

“Either too white or too Spanish and neither group willing to make an exception,” Rivera read. “Neither willing to look past

what they see as truth and experience what the reality is. I know the truth of who I am. I am half and half.”

The night concluded with a reading from Torres’s book, “Taking Flight.” He blends autobiography with fiction in his novel and explores the complexities of family bonds as a Cuban American born in Miami.

His book begins as a memoir and then becomes fiction. Torres used fiction to explore identity because growing up he would often turn simple real-life events into stories people would want to hear. “Taking Flight” is about a grandmother who emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba and shares stories about her experiences and identity with her grandson, who was born in the U.S. like Torres. The grandson initially challenges the stories and assumes them to be fabricated. As the grandson tries to understand his grandmother’s stories, their relationship develops as they look at several important topics like guidance, recognition, mentorship, being loved and belonging.

“This is what we’re doing with Latinx Heritage Month, we remember what it’s like to have home even as we travel away from it,” Torres said. “We remember and we celebrate the relationships that are important for us and make us feel validated, make us feel affirmed regardless of the identities we think we have.”

This relationship between the grandmother and grandson is important for Torres. Without the mentorship of real-life Latino scholars, writers and storytellers, he wouldn’t understand what it means to be Latino. Therefore, it’s important to find mentors you can see yourself in and for universities to hire those that represent an abundance of cultures and identities.

“Celebrating Latinx heritage means making those relationships within and across Latinx communities in solidarity, past, present and future,” Torres said. “To honor the stories that got us here and continue shaping the stories that will bring others along as well.”

It’s important for predominantly white universities like Quinnipiac to provide events such as Amplifying Latinx Voices to create a celebratory and inclusive environment. They serve as a safe place for students and faculty of color to share their truths.

The next “Yawp!” event takes place Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. on Zoom and will feature a poetry reading and conversation with John Murrillo, an Afro-Chicano poet from Brooklyn, New York. The “Yawp!” series will conclude with a fiction reading with Nadya Agrawal, a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, on Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. Professor Kenneth Cormier will be emailing the Zoom link and password for each of these events to students.