Latin@ Heritage Month came to a close on Wednesday. To mark its end, the Office of Equity and Diversity Programs held the Latin@ Heritage Month Closing Banquet in Friends Hall to look back on the month’s activities and eat delicious food.
The main event, though, was Eva Vega. Vega is an educator, speaker and trainer in social justice, bias awareness and leadership education. Vega delivered a presentation in which she reflected on her own personal experiences and how they have affected who she is today, as well as discussed the role students have in promoting change and creating a better world for future generations.
Vega first began by discussing her upbringing. She was a first-generation college student with ancestors based in Puerto Rico, which presented a multitude of obstacles for her. These obstacles started during her first week, when she bumped into a white student. He got mad at her, using a derogatory term to address her and told her to get out of the way.
“In that moment, it felt like he and I have had controversy our entire life, and hadn’t just first met in that moment,” said Vega.
Vega credited this moment with sparking her passion. She explained that she wanted to “understand why people hate,” which led her to taking numerous courses revolving around race and diversity in pursuit of understanding. Eventually, this led to her career in educating and training people about bias and justice. She claimed that the work she does now is all “an extension of a really bad moment of [her] life.”
Vega then went on to discuss recent events in the news, mainly reflecting on the tragedy revolving around the hurricane that has devastated Puerto Rico. She explained that she has family in Puerto Rico that she has yet to hear from, and that the hurricane has created immense damage that will last for months, even years.
“That stuff didn’t happen, it is happening now,” she said.
She wanted to emphasize the lack of resources available to the people of Puerto Rico, and implored students to help in whatever ways they can.
Vega devoted the last portion of her presentation to address students’ roles in creating change. She recognized that many minorities have been scared since the election of Donald Trump, but implored students to use their time in college to gain resources and shape ideas that will benefit the future.
“The solutions are already in your mind and in your head. You just don’t know it yet,” said Vega.
She told students to engage and think critically, as well as work hard in order to benefit themselves and their cultures. She also stressed the fact that the war for justice and equality is ongoing and more prevalent now than ever. Vega noted that no matter what the media or the news tries to portray, the world still is dangerous and lacks justice.
“I want you to recognize that my generation should have fixed this, my mother’s generation should have fixed this, my grandmother’s generation should have fixed this,” said Vega. “Maybe you will be able to fix it.”
She lastly reflected on the people who have lost their lives to injustice, specifically mentioning the shootings that went on in Orlando and more recently Las Vegas. She wanted the students to fight for these people who have lose their lives because they can no longer do it themselves.
“The time that you have right now is for a reason, and I implore you to use it.”
Freshman Lex Young said that she “almost cried” listening to Vega. “It actually made me feel like I have the power to do something,” she explained.
Vega’s presentation and Latin@ Heritage Month has presented valuable resources and experiences for Ramapo’s Latino community. Junior Tuba Farooqui said that this month has been all about “celebrating the cultural diversity the LatinX community brings to the country and what it really means to be LatinX.”
Junior and Equity and Diversity Peer Educator Maria Martinez, who has played an integral role in coordinating Latin@ Heritage Month, explained that the month has helped unite the community. She stated that 13 percent of Ramapo’s student body falls under the Latino or Hispanic category. Despite being a “really big community,” Martinez said, “sometimes it doesn’t feel like the sense of community is necessarily there.” Latin@ Heritage Month has strengthened this community, which students will have all year long.