The Latino community has not always been the minority group with the best academic statistics.
In 2014, the dropout rate for Latino youth ages 16 to 24 was the highest amongst any other group of students with about 10.6 percent. Latino students lag behind in higher education with only 15 percent of the population obtaining bachelor’s degrees, and only seven percent of people in graduate programs are Latino.
At PCC, this trend is slowly but surely changing.
That is why as Vice President of Student Services Dr. Cynthia Olivo took the microphone, so many students at the quad before her stood in anticipation, waiting to hear the landmark announcement of Latino enrollment.
“We wanted to mark this occasion … of enrollment out of [26,000] students, 50.8 percent enrolled are Chicano students. We really want to celebrate our indigenous roots as Latino people,” Olivo declared.
In honor of exceptional Latino enrollment at PCC, Olivo and the Association of Latino Employees and Student Equity
hosted “Día De La Raza: A Celebration of Latino Culture” last Tuesday.
Día De La Raza is every Oct. 12 and is the “Christopher Columbus Day” equivalent for other Latino and Hispanic countries. While Columbus Day was originally set in place to honor his “discovery of the New World,” Día De La Raza is used to celebrate the melding together of substantially different people, cultures, and the events that took place in order for this diversity to exist.
The event’s objective was to empower the Latino community, highlight the achievement, and allow students of all ethnicities to relish in an impactful culture that many Latinos descended from.
“That [number] is historical … it’s inspiring to know Chicanos can come [to PCC] to get educated equally and not feel discriminated against,” PCC student Jennifer Deita said.
The number of Latino enrollment was a sign of their continuing bright academic future, while Aztec dancers were remembrances of the distant past, both integral to the Latino experience.
Dancers from the Pasadena-based Danza Azteca Yankuititl group and Música Latina de Los Angelitos paid homage to the feat by providing authentic, compelling performances that reflected the versatility and strength of the Latino community.
The Yankuititl began the celebration by performing a traditional Aztec dance, blowing ominous calls with conch shells while adorned with bright, grand feathered headdresses and clad in body paint. The dancers ran in groups, often yelling words in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and shaking maraca-like hand and ankle rattles. Four young women danced in a circle to the beat of the blessed huehuetl drum, never missing a step or losing focus.
“Just seeing the dancers, drummer, and the performers have such pride in themselves, it has really provided a platform for me to have pride in myself and how to have confidence in myself,” Deita continued.
The Yankuititls’ ritualistic dancing was so moving that Deita and another PCC student, Katrina Vogel, became locked in a passionate discussion about race, history and their cultures for the remainder of the festivities.
“Looking at this made me curious about my own roots and just about other people’s roots. Chicano culture is very ingrained here in California,” Vogel said. “It’s nice to see people not just being reduced to a number or a statistic but like everyone is coming together. It’s a celebration.”
What made the event so inviting was the live music, talented performers, and the mix of various diverse cultures collectively celebrating the enrollment achievement. It was very social and open to the public; everyone was encouraged to participate in the festivities.
Volunteers from clubs on campus provided Mexican food and drinks for everyone, and the band continued to serenade the audience with upbeat salsa music that kept students dancing. These additions made the event feel even more genial, much like a fiesta.
“This event was very, very inclusive, it was very open,” Vogel said. “They have free food for everyone, everyone’s coming here to dance. It inspired … ”
“Community!” Deita interjected.
“Yeah, it inspired community, and it inspired discussion. It was really interesting,” Vogel continued.
Día De La Raza allowed for the coming together of not only Chicanos to share in the pride of their community, but for others to come together with them and rejoice in their own raza, or “race.” It wasn’t just a day about celebrating Latinos, it was about celebrating who you are and where you come from, and to take that with you wherever you go and apply it to everything you do. The success of the Latino student population is the success of PCC as a whole.
Before leaving, the leader of the Aztec dance group captured the essence of Día De La Raza in its entirety and left the wide and enthusiast crowd with reverberating words to take with them in their future endeavors: “The future is about diversity. Be proud of your roots; today we are celebrating the Latino roots … You need to be proud of yourself [like] we are proud of being native. Viva la raza!”