The 15th annual Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán Conference was hosted by Lane’s MEChA chapter this year from March 3 – 5. MEChA, is a student organization with chapters throughout the country. The regional conference is for MEChA chapters in Oregon.
Lane’s MEChA chapter focuses on promoting higher education among underprivileged groups, the real history of indigenous peoples, promoting human rights and youth outreach. MEChA welcomes people of all backgrounds.
“It’s like a family — we all have each other’s back, we’re all there for each other. It’s kind of like a support I don’t have, personally, sometimes at home, I have it here,” Lane MEChA member Adriana Alvarez said.
Students from Western Oregon University, Oregon State University, University of Oregon, middle schools and high schools around Oregon were in attendance for the event.
Valentin Martinez is in eighth grade at Prairie Mountain School. The school does not have a MEChA program, and this was his first event.
“It’s nice to hear and see people that feel the same way as you,” Martinez said.
Various workshops were available for attendees. Most of the workshops were talks or discussions led by a group of students. The workshops covered various topics and attendees were able to participate in up to three sessions.
One of the afternoon workshops, “Standing Rock and Indigenous Ways,” was led by students from Juventud FACETA, an organization aimed at training youth in various facets of leadership. The necessity of clean water and the racial issues surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline were discussed in addition to talking about traditions of indigenous peoples.
Zaira Flores and Leonel Jines of the Oregon DACA Coalition led a workshop where participants wrote letters to the legislature, expressing the need to keep DACA in effect. DACA is an executive order passed under the Obama administration. It allows some undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors deferred deportation and eligibility for a work permit. The group is running a social media campaign #purpledacaletters, and are hoping for more submissions. They currently have around 200 letters expressing support.
“We’re just humanizing the issue. We’ve talked about how it’s affecting us. We’re putting a face to this,” Flores said.
Mariana Paredones, a member of Lane’s MEChA chapter, led a workshop regarding intersectionality. Intersectionality requires a holistic approach to dealing with issues regarding race, class, gender and sexuality. Paredones touched on the need for coalitions and an integrated approach to dealing with social justice to help movements progress together, rather than interfere with one another. Another key sentiment of the lecture dealt with the sociological and psychological implications of labeling certain humans as illegal entities.
Awards for community service were presented to students and community members by student officer Jesus Narvaez and faculty advisor Jim Garcia.
Among the recipients was co-founder of Lane’s MEChA chapter, Himer Oregon.
“It’s been a pleasure to see the group grow every year — and I feel like a proud papa,” Oregon said.
Roscoe Caron, co-founder of Ganas, was among the recipients in honor of the program’s 20th anniversary. Caron and Garcia started the program at Kennedy Middle School, but the program has moved to Jefferson Middle School and onto Kelly Middle School since that time. According to Caron, it has been difficult to keep the program due to the need for faculty volunteers and initial opposition. For now Ganas is securely established, but with little support.
“The Eugene School District is disinterested, because it doesn’t fit their paradigm,” Caron said.
The conference hosted two keynote speakers Ramón Ramírez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Tree Planters and Farmworkers United. Ramírez works to educate people on the importance of the farm working community.
Patricia Cortez, co-founder of Juventud FACETA, also spoke at the event. Cortez works to inspire youth and encourages them to utilize their voices, focusing on human, immigrant and environmental rights.
The conference also allotted time on Saturday for caucuses. Each caucus represented a different focus including men, women, undocumented, LGBTQ+ and taking action. The caucuses acted as safe spaces for the students to discuss among a group of similarly identifying peers. Respect and confidentiality were important aspects used to create a safe and open environment.
Saturday night ended with a chance for attendees to speak out in an open mic session, touching on personal or political topics important to the individual.