Latinx alumni participated in a panel as a part of Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 25. Diversity Student Programs and the Alumni center held the panel in the Memorial Union.
“A lot of us come from some pretty diverse backgrounds and different economic situations some of us are more privileged than others but understand you aren’t stuck there,” said Rick Torres, panelist. “I have to put myself in check because whenever I’m asked to introduce myself I’ll say, ‘Hi, I’m Rick Torres and I’m an alcoholic,’ but I’ve been sober for over eleven years. You can change. Change is very much possible.”
The panel featured seven members of the community. Only two of them were alumni of Emporia State, but many of them grew up in and around Emporia. The panelists included: Joseph Salazar, Carmen Torres-Miller, Emily Velazquez, Roxanne Peraza, alumni Christina Reyna, Rick Torres and his son, Michael Torres.
“In my high school experience here locally at Emporia High, we had an organization called the ‘Mexican American Indian Student Organization’ or MAISO,” Rick Torres said. “We wanted to do programs or fundraising, so that we could leave a legacy behind with the high school. Unfortunately, we had sponsors that were like ‘we don’t do that’ which was discouraging, but we pushed on.”
According to Rick Torres, the club transformed into Latinos Unidos, which had an incredibly positive influence on his son, Michael.
“I’m so blessed to see how they’ve changed the life of my son and how organizations are coming along and doing so much more," Rick Torres said. “Especially this panel…it’s encouraging because there are still a lot of people stuck in the eighties.”
Many of the older members of the panel expressed concern over the lack of cultural clubs when they were younger, but were hopeful that times were changing.
“I graduated from a small class at a catholic colloquial school,” said Torres-Miller. “There were only seven or eight of us and only five of us went to high school. As far as I know, only three of us went on to study more.”
According to Miller, she was the first Mexican-American accepted into the nursing program at Newman Regional Hospital.
“When I went, I felt isolated, I felt alone, but I had a wonderful class,” Miller said. “There were no cultural clubs or organizations. The main thought was that we were there to study.”
Teresa Taylor-Williams, coordinator for Diversity and Student Programs, asked the panel about the importance of involvement when they attended school.
“I had always wanted to join in a sorority,” said Christina Reya, a founding member of Kappa Delta Chi. “I didn’t feel like I belonged and there weren’t women like me. So, to have somebody ask me if I wanted to help start a sorority for women like me was awesome.”
Reya now works with the Lyon County chapter of SOS, something she says allows her to give back to the community in a positive way.
“I guess what I would say is believe in yourself and study hard,” Salazar said. “You’d be surprised what you can do. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you make a mistake you’ll learn, if we were right all the time we wouldn’t have to go to school. Take some chances, ask that question which makes somebody else uncomfortable, we can really learn a lot from each other.”
Salazar and his wife, Torres-Miller, talked about the Lupe P. Torres scholarship they are creating in honor of Torres-Miller’s father, which is nearing its endowment total.
“What that means is that once it has enough money it should garner enough interest on its own so that it can pay for itself,” Salazar said. “We’re hoping that it will improve their life and allow them to pay for school. It was really something that we wanted to give back to the community.”
According to Salazar, the scholarship will take the form of a direct and endowed fund, giving the selected students $1,000 a year.