The scene in O’Neill Plaza during Tuesday’s protest held by the Organization of Latin American Affairs (OLAA) was, in all respects, a poignant one.
Unhindered by the cold, December rain, members of OLAA linked arms to create a human wall, and they bore signs with messages echoing dissatisfaction with the direction of the current presidential discourse. Surely, this was a definitive moment for the group. But it is by no means the first time OLAA has taken a stance in defense of its values. OLAA is no stranger to taking this type of action, and it has seen a great deal of institutional success in its 38 years at Boston College.
“Its mission was to advocate for Latino students on BC’s campus, but also attempt to attract students from all walks of life,” explained Luis Torres, co-president of OLAA and MCAS ‘16. “Something that was very important at the inception of the group was to have more Latino students apply and be admitted into BC.”
Built on these principles, OLAA has found its stride institutionally and has been a catalyst for change in both the academic and demographic aspects of the University. Its most important accomplishments range from starting the Latin American studies minor to the addition of the Latin America and the World history core class. OLAA also had a large role in establishing the Oscar A. Romero scholarship, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding involvement in and service to the Hispanic/Latino community at BC and in the larger community.
Despite the group’s history as a champion for social and institutional change, OLAA has felt in recent years that it has neglected this mission and tended more toward social and networking endeavors. The group’s leaders see last week’s protest as, ideally, a step back to its socially active past.
“I think our philosophy for the year as a whole was to restore some of the history of OLAA,” Torres said. “We have that in mind with the event planning and different things that we’re doing.”
With this in mind, Tuesday’s demonstration was a step in the right direction in the opinion of many in the group. Going forward, the restoration of OLAA’s original socially aware “outlet” image is a priority of the group. OLAA seeks to serve as a resource to educate others about Hispanic culture and an outlet for students to voice their opinions and concerns.
“It’s not a ‘new’ image exactly,” added Jenny Penafiel, Vice President of OLAA and CSOM ’17. “It’s more the old image that we’re trying to get back to. A lot of people think culture clubs are just there to celebrate the culture, which we do–we have events like that, and it is part of who we are, but it’s not all of who we are.”
Also central to the issue of raising awareness and making an effective impact in a college environment is the notion of collaboration, which has been a new focal point of the group after Tuesday’s demonstration according to Jolani Hernandez, co-president of OLAA and MCAS ‘16. For example, the group hopes to work with the Asian Caucus, which has, Hernandez said, been one of OLAA’s biggest supporters.
“I think that one of the things that our demonstration kind of taught us is that there are other culture groups on campus who are very much interested in these same issues,” Hernandez said. “Now it’s all a matter of sitting down together and planning them.”
Though their current shift in emphasis towards seeking active social change at BC and beyond is important to OLAA, there is still a widely recognized importance attached to the social side of the organization as well. In the mass of 9,000+ undergraduate students, it can be difficult to find like-minded individuals at times, and OLAA understands its importance as an agent for building a community as well as promoting ideas. Building an OLAA family is, without a doubt, among the top priorities for the group.
“I would like OLAA to continue to be the tight-knit organization and family that it is,” Torres said. “I think I have a unique perspective in the sense of family because a few years ago my mother and sister came for our Latino family weekend and as a first-generation student—and we do have a lot of first generation students on our E-board and Cabinet—it was very special. It made it seem like what I was doing was important.”
This family atmosphere not only shapes the OLAA experience, but also makes the group operationally feasible. From its newest members to the very top of the executive board, the efforts of the organization both socially and administratively are a team effort.
“Just seeing how younger students have developed, it’s a very heartwarming thing,” Hernandez said. “I’m very proud of the people we have on our team, something like Tuesday’s demonstration wouldn’t be possible without them and with outside support.”
Correction: A quote was erroneously attributed to Jovani Hernandez instead of Luis Torres. The article has been updated to reflect the change.
Featured Image by Alexandra Allam / Heights Staff