November 5, 2010 — Hispanic Heritage Month has just wrapped up, but the Latino community on Grounds remains active year-round in sharing news and promoting opportunities for students and local community members of Hispanic descent.
Currently, some members of the Latino Student Alliance are working together to raise support and awareness for the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.
First proposed in 2001, the DREAM Act is a piece of federal legislation, which, if passed, would grant temporary six-year residency to deportable immigrants who arrived in the country as minors, graduated from a U.S. high school and are of good moral character. If at the end of that time the student has acquired a bachelor's degree or has completed two years, in good standing, in a degree program, he or she would be eligible for conditional permanent residency.
These immigrants may also choose to complete two years of uniformed service in the military in place of attending college.
Lawn resident Danny Navarro of Miami, a fourth-year history major in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, chairs the Latino Student Alliance's external communications committee and is heading up the organization's efforts in the Dare to Dream U.Va Campaign.
"We did a test petition drive and the main thing we found is that most people don't know what the DREAM Act is," he said. Of the U.Va. students surveyed, Navarro estimates that as many as three-quarters "had no idea what the act is," while the other quarter was "generally supportive," with a few exceptions.
"We want U.Va. to endorse the act, but rather than going straight to the president, we want the students to know what the act does," he said.
The Dare to DREAM U.Va. Campaign hosted presentations on immigration stories as well as the DREAM Act itself during Hispanic Heritage Month, which ended Oct. 15, Navarro said.
Through U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's office, Navarro received VIP tickets to meet President Obama at his campaign rally Oct. 29 in support of Perriello's campaign on the Downtown Mall.
"We were able to provide Congressman Perriello with letters explaining our mission here at the University," he said.
The Latino Student Alliance will host a Dare to DREAM U.Va. Week Nov. 15 through 19, Navarro said, including a petition drive urging the University to endorse the DREAM Act. Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles, have already lent their support, he said.
After the week of advocacy, Navarro hopes to approach and win Student Council's backing, and ultimately gain the endorsement of U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan.
"It's a year-long process – it might even be two or three years – but we are leaving ourselves the flexibility to be able to respond to the political climate in Richmond, Washington and even here in Charlottesville," Navarro said.
On a more local level, the alliance's weekly newsletter, Sabor – "taste" or "flavor" in Spanish – reaches some 1,900 people via an electronic mailing list. University students who select "Hispanic" as one of their ethnic identities are automatically added to the mailing list. Hispanic/Latino students account for about 4.5 percent of the total student population, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admission's website.
The newsletter also reaches a number of Charlottesville residents, as well as students who have graduated and choose to stay abreast of happenings in the Latino community.
Alexa Proffitt, a third-year student in the College from Richmond who is double-majoring in foreign affairs and studies in women and gender, has compiled the newsletter for the past two years as part of her duties as the alliance's secretary.
A recent edition featured blurbs on everything from salsa dancing lessons to notice of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's summer program in Washington. Sabor also provides information about social events and volunteer opportunities, such as the Dare to DREAM U.Va. Campaign.
"Even though some people identify themselves as Hispanic, they choose not to associate with organizations on Grounds," Proffitt said, adding that Sabor keeps students informed about events, but does not require membership in any sponsoring organizations.
"I think it's a really good, cohesive thing," Proffitt said, especially in bolstering the Hispanic community on Grounds. "There is such a small community here."
Contact Alexa Proffitt at email@example.com to be added to the Sabor mailing list.