Purdue Latinx students gain strength from looking inward and connecting outward

Since its establishment in 2003, Purdue’s Latino Cultural Center (LCC) has served as a space to represent Latinx cultures, identities, histories, and accomplishments. The connections and community that students find there often give them the confidence to excel in challenging situations, including the pandemic.

Kamilah ValentinKamilah Valentin-Diaz, a junior majoring in political science and anthropology, says her connection to the LCC was important in the pandemic isolation. “I was able to interact through the [LCC] Instagram page, and we students also made a GroupMe for Latino students, particularly incoming freshmen. It wasn’t an LCC project, but we worked together to forge that sense of community that we used to have but couldn’t take advantage of because we were no longer on campus.”

Kamilah emphasizes the importance of her multi-faceted identity as a Latina. “Through the pandemic, I have tried to get in touch with all the different aspects of who I am, as a person as well as ancestrally and culturally.  I am very proud of my heritage and representing my culture in a positive way is something I always consider when I’m doing anything that’s considered professional or formal or academic.”

Giovanna SalazarGiovanna Salazar, a senior majoring in communications with a concentration in public relations and strategic communication, grew up in Lafayette, IN, but considers her second home to be Zacatecas, Mexico, where her family and culture are rooted. She feels that her involvement with the LCC helped her expand her horizons and explore new opportunities. “The LCC helped me find a sense of belonging when I was struggling to figure out who I was in a PWI [predominantly white institution],” she says. “I have been able to feel safe and meet so many people who are like me. I also got to immerse myself more in the LCC by visiting often and being a part of organizations and events.”  For Giovanna, Día de los Muertos is a favorite LCC event “because I get to celebrate and appreciate a holiday that is special to many in the Latinx community,” she says.

Both Kamilah and Giovanna are committed to making a difference in the world.

Kamilah, who was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in various states before coming to Purdue, is writing and publishing a book of bilingual poetry titled In the Ashes and Rising. “The book is about me and about my home, Puerto Rico, which has a lot to do with my identity,” she says. “People spend so much time trying to get to know others that they don't spare time to know themselves. The pandemic forced me to be alone with who I was and grow to have kindness for that person. That's something I hope everybody acknowledges; that we must find space and empathy for ourselves.”

Giovanna QuoteGiovanna, who is spending the Fall 2021 semester at Seoul National University in South Korea as part of an exchange program, wants to apply the skills she has learned at Purdue to social justice issues by helping others communicate effectively and be proactive.  She would like to help nonprofits and small businesses communicate to fulfill their missions. “As a first-generation student and daughter of an immigrant, I am determined to make an impact with issues that have affected me”, she says. “I notice a lot of communication problems exist that prevent underprivileged individuals from accessing resources and thriving.”