Chicano students from all over the East Coast gathered at Penn this weekend to address challenging issues in the context of their culture.
MEChA, Penn’s Chicano cultural group, hosted the East Coast Chicano Student Forum. For the first time since spring 2008, this conference took place on Penn’s campus and welcomed around 75 Mexican and Mexican-American students from several college and universities in the Northeast.
Since most Chicano students are from the West Coast of the United States, the ECCSF aims to bring a widely dispersed minority group together.
After attending an ECCSF conference in their sophomore year, a group of MEChA student leaders made it their goal to host a conference on Penn’s campus.
Now a College senior, MEChA External Chair Ollin Venegas helped to bring this gathering to campus.
“It’s really awesome to see that we’re getting together, far away from home, and trying to discuss things that are really pertinent to our community,” Venegas said.
The theme of this conference was “Sin Cadenas” or “Without Chains: Deconstructing Gender, Identity and Sexuality.” In partnership with Queer People of Color, MEChA welcomed a variety of professors and other community leaders to discuss issues such as sexuality, that are not typically addressed within Chicano and Latino communities.
The conference featured workshops and lectures on Saturday, followed by a dinner, keynote address and dance in the evening.
Among the featured speakers were Philadelphia’s LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez, Chicano artist and author Charles Rice-González and Chicano writer and social activist Vincent Cervantes. In his keynote address, Cervantes discussed his controversial experience with exorcism as a last resort to “cure” him of his homosexuality.
Several lecturers and discussion focused on taboo topics like sexuality and gender identity within the largely Catholic Chicano community.
Anthea Butler, the graduate chair of Penn’s Religious Studies Department, led a workshop that featured a discussion on a “double consciousness” among Mexican Americans and other Latinos. This refers to the creation of different identities based on the polarized aspects of one’s personality, such as religion and sexuality, in order to fit into different roles.
This theme was echoed in the speech delivered by Rice-González. Rather than limiting oneself to different labels, the author emphasized the importance of “taking all of these identities and embracing them together.” As a gay Chicano man, Rice-González said he was enthusiastic about the conference because of its potential to change the current mindset about the LGBT community.
Students visiting from other schools in the Northeast were inspired by the speakers’ messages. “They really tackled the topic of queer identity in terms of religion, in terms of gender and in the arts,” Connecticut College senior Rocio Garcia said.
Second-year student at the School of Veterinary Medicine Viviana Vallin was also pleased with the discussions of queer and Chicano identity this weekend. “I think it’s something that’s not always talked about in the Chicano or Latin culture,” Vallin said, “and it’s really important to have dialogue about that.”
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