Latinx Heritage Month (LHM), which runs from September 15 through October 15, is off to an exciting start. After a successful kick-off and recent name change (from Hispanic Heritage Month), the air is full of promise. Adding to the excitement was the annual Latinx keynote, presented by Carolina Latinx Collaborative (CLC), CUAB, CHispa and SUI. Fervent chatter filled the Great Hall of the Student Union, as people listened eagerly to the words of Rosa Clemente, a scholar and activist leading the way in issues of Afro-Latinx identity.
The crowd was few but this did not deter Clemente, who believes that number does not matter. “I’ve been in rooms of 20,000 and not one person did a thing and yet I’ve been in rooms with seven people who have changed the world,” she said in her opening remarks. The theme of change radiated throughout her speech as the orator commented on a range of topics from racism to healthcare to climate change. No matter the subject, the passion was evident in her voice.
Clemente described her journey to activism, beginning with life in the South Bronx. She grew up going to a nice school in a well-to-do neighborhood. For the most part, life was pleasant for her. The pivotal moment in her life occurred when she entered college and encountered something that she never so blatantly had to confront: racism. After finding racial slurs written in her dorm suite, Clemente knew she needed to take a stand and at that moment, she realized the importance of joining organizations and politically educating oneself.
Clemente believes that, especially now, “our job is to become informed” through real-world experience because, “education doesn’t happen in four walls, at an institution, or through a degree.” She encouraged the students to join campus organizations, to question the ideas taught in school, and to come together as allies because one person cannot lead the way for change without help.
Clemente closed with her favorite quote by abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, which embodies the very ideas of her speech:
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
The impact of her delivery resonated strongly with the audience, comprised primarily of students. Josmell Perez, Assistant Director of the Carolina Latinx Collaborative, said, “Students were inspired by the honest and sincere way that Rosa spoke. She wasn’t trying to sugarcoat anything – she talked about the facts.”
Indeed, Clemente – who is Puerto Rican – tapped into current events to share a need for awareness. “The day she came,” says Perez, “Puerto Rico was getting hit with Hurricane Maria and she was concerned about the impact the storm would have on the island. She reminded us that Puerto Rico is not some third world country, but an American territory and that not enough is being done for its citizens. She was also concerned that when Puerto Rico is rebuilt, who will the owners be – its current citizens or rich, international investors?”
This sort of awareness-raising touched a nerve among the students, many of whom could relate to the plight of the island’s population. “The students appreciated hearing that they should not get distracted by all the ‘noise’ and to, instead, focus on the real issues.”
As the excitement of Latinx Heritage Month continues to spread across campus, let the message of Rosa’s speech remain on the forefront of the fight for change.
To view the Latinx Heritage Month events calendar, please click here.
By Brittany Grant