An inclusive club for diverse cultures called the Association for Latin American Students is new to Eastern Michigan University’s campus this fall.
The organization's founder Fernanda Garcia Acuna expressed the need for people on campus to be able to have more events on campus for students to get involved with different cultures.
“I want them to be able to make new friends, be able to make connections, represent our culture, have fun, take a break from studying and school,” Garcia Acuna said.
The club name is inspired by the Spanish word "ala," which means wings in Spanish and is not pronounced as the acronym A-L-A-S. The logo highlights a butterfly to tie into the name. Beneath the butterfly sits a phrase written in Spanish and Portuguese reading “Atrevete a volar” and “Ouse voar” which means “Dare to Fly” in English.
Garcia Acuna and her board members have heritages from various countries in Latin and South America. She said she likes to learn from and relate to other Latin cultures. ALAS aims to represent and connect diverse Latin cultures beyond Mexican.
“I am not Mexican and I do see a lot of events that are mostly Mexican-based, but to me there’s really more than just Mexican culture out there,” Garcia Acuna said.
A goal of ALAS is to speak Spanish during their meetings. Marisol Garrido, a professor of Spanish at EMU and the advisor for the club, wants to encourage her students to attend meetings to practice having conversations in Spanish.
Garcia Acuna acknowledges that it can be hard for some people to only speak Spanish, as not all Latin people are fluent in the language.
“We really want to be able to speak Spanish, that's something that is our goal, we are trying to stick that in there,” said Garcia Acuna. “Sometimes it can be hard for other people to communicate only in Spanish, but we are really trying to have a space for students learning Spanish to come here and practice with somebody.”
Garcia Acuna said a club she established during her senior year of high school, the Latin Student Union, inspired her to start ALAS. After immigrating from Costa Rica to Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Garcia Acuna noticed there were a lot of Latin students, but not a common space for them to connect. The National Center for Education Statistics reports almost 12% of students who enrolled at Huron High School in the 2021-2022 school year identified as Hispanic.
“When I started high school there were no Latin clubs whatsoever and there was a lot of Latin people so I was like, maybe I should start it,” Garcia Acuna said.
ALAS was first established at the end of the 2023 winter semester and started accepting members in late August of the following semester. Garcia Acuna’s board shuffled around during the summer and it was a challenge to connect with students that could commit to the time and responsibility, but they are now established for the semester. It is important to Garcia Acuna to create a welcoming culture for ALAS, starting with her board.
“As the president, I want my board to feel like they belong. I want to be able to make a safe space for other students, and how can I do that if my board doesn’t feel that themselves?” Garcia Acuna said.
Garcia Acuna wants to make connections and collaborate with the International Student Association and Latin Student Association on campus to expand the size of ALAS’ community. Garcia Acuna said they hope to host two to three meetings a month and are currently hosting weekly events for Hispanic Heritage Month.
“I was like okay, it's time for us to do events, host Latin things during this month, represent our culture with traditional dances, traditional music,” said Garcia Acuna. “That's not something you listen to often on campus, that's our month for us.”
Their next event will be a tailgating event at Rynearson Lot before EMU’s homecoming football game on Saturday, Oct. 7. They will sell Latin American food, play music, and facilitate activities starting at 11 a.m.
ALAS will meet every other Thursday with meetings and events being updated on their Instagram. There is a yearly $25 due to cover expenses for events with two free meetings offered to check out the club before committing.