Local nonprofit Senderos, a Latino arts and culture educational organization, was initially founded in response to the racism co-founder Nereida Robles had witnessed, primarily against the Oaxacan community. Over a decade later, Senderos continues to combat bigotry by bringing the Latinx community together with events like the Latino Role Models Conference.
Emmy-award-winning journalist Erandi Garcia was this year’s host; she shared her own experiences in journalism with the packed theater of nearly 300 students and families.
The panel featured respected Latinx professionals from the arts, academia, health and tech world. A local student panel also spoke, encouraging their peers to pursue their goals and continue their education.
Yan Banales Garcia, a mechanical engineering student at Cabrillo College and one of the student speakers, said we wanted to inspire other young Latinos in the STEM field.
“I’ll be in a class of 30, and there’s maybe four or five Latinos and even fewer women, so it’s really disheartening, and I use that as motivation to break the barrier and set a good example for other Latinos who are trying to do what I am doing,” Banales Garcia said.
Bryan Angel, a Soquel High School student, is interested in pursuing a career in tech and was excited to listen to panelist Martin Vargas Vega, a software engineer.
“I came hoping someone would be here working in tech,” Angel said. “Someone that could give me an outline of things I should do, things that will get me to where I need to go.”
It was not lost on the speakers or the crowds that this conference was being held just over a week after devastating floods destroyed homes in Pajaro County, which most of Santa Cruz County’s Latinx population calls home. Local leaders are criticizing Biden’s slow response to declare the area in a state of emergency, which would free up federal support and aid, especially in light of the quick organization when devastation hit North County’s Capitola.
Dr. Elizabeth Gonzales, the Inaugural Director of the Hispanic Serving Institution at UCLA, said the recent Pajaro floods and the devastation to South Santa Cruz County highlight the need for advocates from the community and she hopes younger generations will heed the call.
“We need [Latinos] to advocate for communities that are left behind,” Gonzales explained. “Everything happening in Pajaro shows you how we need leaders to step up and be the voice for our communities.”
She became involved with Senderos while attending UC Santa Cruz and continues supporting their community work.
“Senderos has always lifted the voice, the visibility, the orgullo [pride] of the Latino community here in Santa Cruz County,” Gonzales added. “I think [Senderos] makes Santa Cruz [County] distinct, and it celebrates and welcomes everybody.”
After the panels, Senderos’ baile folklorico group Centeotl Danza y Baile gave a riveting performance. Additionally, Chicano artist Juan R. Fuentes presented some of his work that was informed by social justice struggles throughout the years.
Keynote speaker, Executive Director Emerita of the Chicana Latina Foundation and longtime social justice advocate, Olga Talamante, spoke from the heart.
“I understand the emotion. Do you know why? Because we are with you,” Talamante said.
The gathering ended triumphantly, and Robles reflected on how important it is for the students and their families to have access to an institution like Cabrillo College for the event.
“We want our people to get to know, to step foot in a higher education institution so that the parents and students can become familiar with them,” Robles said. “Many of the students are first generation, and we want them to feel like this is a place for them and that they can do this too.”