Latinas on the Rise celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Latinas on the Rise is a student organization dedicated to empowering Latinx individuals on campus as well as creating a safe space for Latinas.

“(Latinas on the Rise) is dedicated to the entrancement of women self-empowerment,” President Natalie Corral-Gutierrez, ’21, said. “(We create) a safe space where Latinas can come together and embrace their culture and identity.”

The organization is a part of the Culture, Identity & Leadership Coalition advised by Director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice Center Angelica Perez-Johnston.

Due to COVID-19, Latinas on the Rise meet biweekly on Zoom on Thursdays at 6 p.m. to discuss upcoming events, mentorship and internal affairs. The organization is open to anyone interested in attending the meetings.

“Even though we are not meeting in person, the remote meetings are so much more accessible,” Corral-Gutierrez said. “There is a little bit of a downfall that we do not get to see our members face-to-face and interact in a room, but they are still getting a sense of us. We try to show them our personalities and our stories to make it as normal as possible.”

Corral-Gutierrez recalled having culture shock during her first year at Allegheny because it was very different from California, where she grew up in a predominately Hispanic area.

“Coming into Allegheny, it was so different, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month because I did not get those experiences anymore,” Corral-Gutierrez said. “My first two years, I did feel like I was losing my identity and it was just recently when I started on the board (of Latinas on the Rise) that I realized how important it is to continue learning and practicing your culture … I want to make sure that no one looses their identity and embraces it … A lot of people do not understand the Hispanic culture, so it is important to practice it within yourself and then show it to the world.”

Latinas on the Rise was created to focus on women’s empowerment as well as to create a space for Latinas to embrace their own identities. The organization was more central and focused than existing Hispanic organizations.

“It is so hard, especially for first-year students to go through that culture shock,” Corral-Gutierrez said. “I reach out to them when I realize who that group will consist of, over the summer, and I tell them that it is going to be hard, but that you can join (Latinas on the Rise and Union Latinx) because it is super important to embrace your culture and not be too scared of it or feel different or left out … We are with you, we have been through it so let’s talk about it and we will still celebrate just like any other Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Hispanic Heritage Month occurs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, commemorating the independence of Latin American countries.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is super important to any Hispanic and Latinx-identifying cultures because this month provides us with a safe place to help others learn more about our culture and it helps us embrace (our heritage) within our own community,” Corral-Gutierrez said. “We are aiming to help the community of Meadville learn more about different Hispanic cultures and for us that do identify as Latinx to be more comfortable embracing our culture within the community.”

Latinas on the Rise have numerous events this semester, despite COVID-19, and have been able to celebrate and share their culture with the campus community in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“All (Latinas on the Rise) asks for other students is to have an open mind and to really dive into learning about our culture with us,” Corral-Gutierrez said. “The Hispanic culture is so diverse and there are so many countries involved with Hispanic Heritage Month and we try to incorporate (all of them) by doing different things. We are teaching people our music, how to dance and the importance of food — this is a huge part of any culture … We really try our best to teach people different aspects of our culture.”

While Hispanic Heritage Month is a time on campus where Latinas on the Rise and Union Latinx host interactive community events, this month holds great significance to Latinx-indentifying countries, cultures and students.

“To me, Hispanic Heritage Month is such a huge deal because I (was) born in the United States,” Corral-Gutierrez said. “My parents were born in Mexico and they came to the United States when my mom realized she was pregnant with me because they wanted me to have better opportunities.”

Corral-Gutierrez recalled Hispanic Heritage Month in California being a big celebration where her family from Mexico would come to celebrate with them. Festivities included their favorite foods and discussions about the Hispanic culture. Corral-Gutierrez wanted to create a similar experience on campus for Hispanic Heritage Month by teaching the campus and local community about her culture through events.

On Sept. 18, the organization and Union Latinx hosted the Latinx Faculty Panel via Google Meet, where students and faculty could learn about one another’s culture and identity.

From Sept. 19 to Sept. 20, Latinas on the Rise collaborated with Union Latinx and the IDEAS Center to host a food-centric event in the gator quad featuring churros and chocolate.

“I wanted to do the churros and chocolate event because it is honestly one of my favorite desserts,” Vice President Crystal Hernandez, ’23, said. “I loved eating churros growing up as a kid, and I never had them with chocolate until I went to Spain, which was back in the summer of 2018. When we were looking for desserts, we found that there is a Cuban-style churros and chocolate so we decided, why not bring that on as one of our events.”

This event held sentimental significance to many members of the organization.

“I resonate a lot with churros because I have a lot of memories from Christamas because (my family) would have churros with hot chocolate; the cinnamon and dough brings back Christmas memories,” Treasurer Rachel Olivares, ’23, said. “(Churros) are very integrated into my holiday traditions.”

On Sept. 23, in collaboration with Union Latinx and the IDEAS Center, they hosted another food-centric event in the gator quad featuring flan, which is an egg custard dessert with a caramel topping.

“When I think of flan, I just always think about my childhood, and especially my uncle because it was always his favorite food,” Philanthropy Chair Eisa Patino, ’21, said. “I love that flan is not like cake because the texture is smoother and it is so delicious, sweet and the little bit of caramelized sugar on top just makes it.”

On Oct. 3, Union Latinx and Latinas on the Rise hosted Elotes Preparados, a food-centric event, in the gator quad. Elotes are traditional street-style corn that can be topped with numerous additives, such as mayonnaise, cheese and chili powder.

“For those who do not know what an Elote Preparado is, it is basically a corn on the cob topped with mayo, butter, cheese and chilli powder — trust me, this is really delicious,” Publicity Chair Jasmine Ramirez-Soto, ’21, said. “When I think of Elotes Preparados, they remind me of back home, specifically of the Elotero man — the corn man. He usually goes around the block honking his horn to let everyone know that he is near and people rush to the door and street just to get that delicious corn.”

Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the organization provided elote kits and a step-by-step tutorial on how to make them. The kits contained corn, chili powder, mayonnaise, parmesan cheese and butter.

“I have been eating elotes ever since I was little, which are just corn on the cob,” Secretary Angela Cruz, ’23, said. “How I prepare my elotes is that I squeeze lime juice all over it and then I add mayo and parmesan cheese, and depending on whether I want it to be spicy or not I add chilli powder or I add Valentina — either way all of the combinations are really good and I really like it.”

Latinas on the Rise handed out self-care kits, on Oct. 6, in the IDEAS Expansion Center that featured avocado masks and hot cocoa to help people de-stress.

On Oct. 8, in Murray Lawn, the organization hosted an in-person and virtual event to teach people how to dance the Bachata. The event had a maximum capacity of 25 people to ensure appropriate social distancing, but the event was available on Zoom as well. The event was choreographed by Ramirez-Soto and Hernandez.

The final event for Hispanic Heritage Month is planned to occur on Oct. 13 and it is the Brown Bag Lunch, another food-centric event featuring traditional Hispanic snacks.

On Oct. 15, the winner of the raffle will be announced. The winner will receive a free photoshoot with “Billionaire” Dez Harris, a local photographer.

“We ran through so many difficulties (with COVID-19),” Corral-Gutierrez added. “Last year, we had great events which involved a lot of involvement, but this year it is different because instead of interacting (with people) and having big gatherings to teach people, we have to have more of a grab-and-go style (for events) that only have quick interactions.”

To compensate for the loss of interaction at events due to COVID-19 regulations, the organization is utilizing their social media to teach the campus community about Hispanic culture. They made several interactive videos to help teach the community about the significance of the events that Latinas on the Rise are hosting for Hispanic Heritage Month. Videos will be posted on their social media platforms and some feature cameos from Union Latinx members.

“We have been making so many videos as far as teaching people about our cultures,” Corral-Gutierrez added. “(We are) having our board members speak broadly as far as what their culture means to them and what these events mean to them. We tackled a lot of obstacles with COVID-19, but I think, with all of the events that we have, and with the use of our social media platforms, we can help (the community) still learn (about hispanic culture) in the same way that we did in previous years.”