Hispanic community Reddie to make presence at Henderson St.

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published April 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 17, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Henderson State student Gladys Rivas talks about her experiences as a Latina of Mexican descent in Arkansas as fellow student Izhar Buendia listens.

— When Izhar Buendia of Bonnerdale in Hot Spring County came to Henderson State University as a freshman, he said he looked around at his fellow students, and he didn’t see a lot of kids who looked like he did.

Buendia is Latino, having come to the United States when his parents moved to New Jersey. The family moved to Arkansas six years ago, looking for a more rural life.

“When I first got to Henderson, I didn’t see but maybe three Hispanic students,” Buendia said.

Gladys Rivas of El Dorado, whose parents came from Mexico, had a similar experience when she started attending Henderson State.

“It was scary; I felt alone,” Rivas said. “I would see some other Hispanics in class, but we never talked.”

Actually, 115 students on the HSU campus have declared to the university that they are of Hispanic heritage, or Latino. Buendia and Rivas know that because they and other students like them have formed the League of Latinos, a group of 30 or so American young people who came from, or whose parents came from, Mexico, Central America or South America.

“Our mission is to connect, develop and empower,” said Chris Espinoza of Hope, president of the League of Latinos, whose parents are from Mexico and Honduras. “We want to connect and promote leadership among the Hispanic students and then connect with the larger community.”

On April 4, the organization raised money to purchase books for school libraries in the Arkadelphia Public Schools. The club made a statement with Tacos for Texts, offering authentic tacos from tortillas made fresh by the members of the club, for their fellow students and community members who came to the Garrison Center Day Gym for the event.

“I think most people thought they would just get a meal on a plate,” Rivas said. “Even some of the non-Mexican Latino students had never seen tortillas pressed and cooked in front of them.”

The event was successful on several levels, said Veronikha Salazar, the new associate dean of students at HSU, who is working to support and develop the League of Latinos and similar organizations on campus.

The event raised more than $1,000 to purchase books for Arkadelphia schoolchildren, as well as highlighting the diversity of the Latino community on campus.

“Through events like Tacos for Texts,” Buendia said, “the Latino student community can come together, create a presence at Henderson and make an impact on the community.”

“The league was created in the fall of 2011 from the summer institute,” Espinoza said. “At first, there was only a handful of us, maybe five.”

However, the organization began to draw the attention of other Hispanic students.

Buendia became an early member when he and a friend came to a meeting, having wished for a group for Hispanic students. Rivas said she had heard about the group and talked with Espinoza, who was in one of her classes.

The entire Arkadelphia community was invited by the league for a Salsa Night on Monday evening at the Garrison Day Gym. While there may be some tomato-based chip dips at the event, the club has a different kind of salsa in mind and brought in Leah Patterson, a professional dancer from Little Rock who has taught the salsa around the world.

“On Friday, some of us will take the money from the taco sales and buy the books for the children,” Espinoza said.

The next step for the league, he said, is to help Hispanics in the community.

“The next phase is to

develop leaders who will look out for high school students,” he said. “Many of them lack role models, and we want to show them we can be successful professionals with a bigger future than they may have envisioned in the past.”

Buendia said sometimes young Latinos carry lower expectations about what they can do in life, first because their parents encourage their children to find jobs to help the family, and also because they are not told of many of the educational options that are available, while their Anglo schoolmates are more informed of these opportunities.

“A high-school counselor may not tell Hispanic students about [Advanced Placement] classes or the scholarships that are available,” Salazar said.

“We see a stereotype of the culture, and we want to be involved,” Rivas said. “We want for people to be proud of our heritage and to promote leadership in the community.”

For more information about the League and its activities, contact Associate Dean Salazar at salazav@hsu.edu or at (870) 230-0546.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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