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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

UMD’s Latino student renaissance of the 1990s

Recognizing our predecessors despite a racist history of undocumented legacy

A 1992 edition of La Voz Latina dispalyed during the Rising Up: 100 Years of Student Activism for Justice and Civil Rights at the University of Maryland at Hornbake Library on Oct. 27, 2023 (Alexa Figueroa)

Written by: Angelina Santos 🇵🇷

Latinos at the University of Maryland have much to be proud of and there is a legacy of Latino students that have passed through the institution that deserve acknowledgment. In my own time here, I noticed that there was an interesting movement in UMD’s Latino history, sometime around the 1990s. 

This very publication’s first iteration was created in 1987, our university SHPE chapter initiated a year later, and our universities only Latino fraternity and two sororities came to be throughout the 90s. It made me ask myself whether or not the 1980s and 90s was some sort of renaissance for the Latino community at this institution. 

One idea that I pondered was whether or not this rise in Latino organizations and involvement had anything to do with the rise in people from El Salvador moving to the D.C. area in the 1980s. After and during civil conflicts and political unrest in El Salvador many families moved into this area looking for a new life. 

More Latinos in the area could have created a heightened sense of community identity. The resilience and determination of these new arrivals could have inspired the creation of network and cultural outlets that we continue to benefit from today. 

That being said, in 1981-1982 there was what appeared to be a 1% increase in Latino students at UMD and then things stayed around 2% for a while.

I began my investigation in Hornbake. Looking chronologically, I wanted to know if there were any organizations other than La Voz Latina that had started in the 80s, when the immigration of families from El Salvador began. 

The Hispanic Student Union (HSU) ended up being founded the same year as La Voz Latina, in 1987 (according to UMD, although old La Voz Latina records claim its inception was sometime in 1988-1989). They were responsible for the university first celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, in 1989.

At the time of starting the publication, La Voz Latina discussed the difficulties they would have to face with the Latin American Student Union (LASU), which I am assuming was their Latinx Student Union. Here we can also infer that LASU must have been around before La Voz Latina. There, at that meeting with LASU, they also came up with the name for the publication. 

In one of their articles-from Dec. 1, 1987, La Voz Latina discussed the struggle behind keeping the publication alive. The situation was dire for the publication, with finding support and keeping their dream alive, something current La Voz Latina staff know all too well.

“Desafortunadamente, tras haber publicado tres ediciones, La Voz Latina está enfrentando graves problemas. La ayuda tan prometida por muchos nunca fue recibida y un grupo pequeño de estudiantes dedicados tuvo que hacer el trabajo correspondiente a un equipo. La Voz Latina pasó a ser humano.” they wrote. They mentioned how important a Hispanic publication is, as we often get pushed to the side in the media.

Going into those records was an experience that almost left me emotional. The 1991 records show the racism on campus, committees that were made (there was one for Hispanic and Asian people formed that year) and more. I recommend reading the old La Voz Latina editions, it shows how important it was for there to be a place for Latinos to share their voice. 

In 1991 La Voz also reported on the state of Latino student involvement. The only two student organizations that had been successful in being created, HSU and the Society of Hispanic Engineers, were struggling due to lack of support and involvement. They reported that that year “only 130 Latinos entered UMCP as freshman and transfer students.” 

La Voz reported this trying to evoke a change towards more Latino unity on campus. How times have changed! Back then it was a struggle just to keep two Latino organizations alive. 

In 1994 there was even more movement. La Voz Latina put out a piece to encourage Latino students to be more involved in local politics by covering 1991 riots in Mount Pleasant, D.C. 

There had been a police shooting of a Salvadoran man and the riots had been in response to the tragic event. 

In the following year, the Upsilon Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.  (LTA) was established (they put on the first Hispanic Heritage Festival and they wrote a piece in La Voz Latina in ‘95!) 

This marked the beginning of Latino Greek life on campus. La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Inc. Phi Chapter (LUL) joined the movement, followed by the Chi Chapter of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc. (SIA).  

In later years the Hispanic Heritage Festival was put on by the Hispanic Heritage Coalition which consisted of the HSU, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Latino Business Society, the Hispanic Faculty, Staff, Graduate Student Association, LUL and LTA.

My time for research was limited, and I was also warned by the lovely and incredibly helpful University Archivist that there were varying degrees of racism that excluded minority communities from being properly represented in the archives and yearbooks. 

While researching, I felt how important student journalism was for marginalized students at this University. The institution did not keep track of our history with the same amount of depth as they did white students. 

A big source for me ended up being La Voz Latina, but as you read through its editions the struggle to keep the paper alive is quite noticeable. Due to systematic problems, there’s gaps in UMD Latino history due to the publication having to end and restart several times throughout history. 

Although I can’t know for sure, the evidence shows that with the area’s historical context and the surge of new organizations, the 1990s was clearly a period of increased cultural activity. 

Whether we want to make the claim that it was a renaissance or not, the landscape around the UMD area was becoming more Latino. While that was happening, foundations were being laid for Latino students for years to come by new student involvement starting.

Moving forward it is our responsibility to carry this legacy with pride and to continue building upon the foundations laid by those who navigated being Latino in a harder time. Our history is beautiful, special and important to remember. Latino students just getting to higher education is something we need to remember was never handed to us. Our community now is just a further testament of hard work and progress.

Note: The archivist mentioned a “The Latino Student Union Dance Club” and “Latin American Business Organization” but detailed information on these organizations were hard to find.

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