Multiple student-led organizations at Boise State are working to create a better experience for Latinx students and to promote civic engagement. Movimiento Estudiantil for Progressive Action (MEPA), formerly known as MEChA, is one such national group.
Boise State MEPA co-chairs Valeria Montelongo and Maricela Deveney worked along with other members to coordinate an event on Sept. 23 at the Idaho State Capitol with Representative Sue Chew (D) to include the Latinx community in governmental spaces. This
For many, it was the first time visiting their state government’s largest structure. Deveney, a health sciences student at Boise State, was not intimidated.
“This is our future home,” Deveney said.
Deveney and Montelongo both said that Latinx heritage month from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15 does not necessarily change their actions. Their mission, according to Deveney, is the advancement of the Latinx community. MEPA has registered 40 student voters — mostly Latinx — at Boise State since August. Members are raising concerns about University Foundations courses, putting on events to raise scholarship funds and celebrating their communities daily.
“I live Latinx heritage every day,” Deveney said. “And we face the issues in our community every day.”
Aysia Kernin is a fourth-year student studying narrative arts who has experienced tokenization as a person of color because of heritage months like Latinx Heritage Month, Black History Month and Pride. Kernin believes that the designated months are detrimental for the communities they are meant to celebrate.
“It devalues the worth of the identity or the culture,” Kernin said. “We fought for our rights and you gave us a month of recognition when we deserve recognition year-round.”
Debbie Solano is a first-year computer science major who is part of the Latinx and disabled communities. Solano said her experience at the Women’s March in Boise has made her realize how greatly the Latinx community is being ignored, which is part of her motivation for attending and participating in Latinx student movements.
“Latinx people weren’t being listened to in comparison with other minority groups,” Solano said. “They were dismissing us, they didn’t care about what we had to say and that we were part of the community.”
For the group of Latinx students who visited the state Capitol, disproportionate representation in government is a harsh reality. Rep. Chew welcomed the students with open arms.
“Our building has needed people like you for a very long time,” Chew said.
Many of the students felt that their experiences were not understood at the Capitol. Third-year health sciences student Alejandria Hernandez asked one official about the greatest problem regarding the immigration issue, the official said the safety of other countries needed to be increased.
“I’ll tell you that, in America, I’d feel comfortable walking down the street at midnight with hundreds of dollars in my wallet,” the official said. “And I wouldn’t even think about it.”
Hernandez and other students were surprised.
“That shows that he does not put himself in the shoes of minorities,” Hernandez said. “I definitely don’t feel I can do that.”
MEPA’s mission is particularly important to discourse in a time when the immigration of Latinx people is one of the intensely debated and, often, misunderstood political topics nationally.
“Part of MEPA’s mission is also to normalize and decriminalize the topic of immigration,” Deveney said. “My dad was deported earlier this year. I started getting involved with MEPA because I realized that immigration has always been used as propaganda to push campaigns forward.”
Junior health sciences student Valeria Montelongo said that, as a Latinx student in a predominantly white community, it is essential to have allies take some of the burdens of defending the Latinx community and educating individuals. However, Montelongo often sees allyship being used as a trend on social media, but rarely reflected in people’s actions.
“If the people here on campus really care, they’ll educate themselves more, and they’ll speak out if there’s something said that isn’t correct,” Montelongo said. “It’s still not fair that people on the street assume that I’m illegal just because of the color of my skin…and allies should be willing to say, ‘They’re not all from Mexico. And not all of them are illegal.’” this
Even without the support of allies, Latinx students plan to continue making space for one another in the community and fight for their voices to be heard.