For the first time in years, the Blue Mountain Community College Hermiston Center has a new Latino club focused on leadership. It’s called “Unidxs.”
“The Spanish language is very gendered,” said Nayali Contreras, one of the club’s advisors. “Unidos, masculine, and unidas, feminine, both translate to ‘united.’ The ‘X’ in unidxs’ is to make it gender inclusive. This is a way for people not to have to choose between masculine and feminine.”
A year ago, campus life at the Hermiston Blue Mountain Community College Center was scant.
“Last year,” said student Zayra Preciado, who is in charge of marketing for the new group, “I didn’t see much student life.”
According to Contreras, who is coordinator for the Precision Irrigated Agriculture Facility at BMCC Hermiston and an advisor for the group, there aren’t any clubs this year besides Unidxs.
“The center has felt more alive this year,” she said.
The idea for the club started growing last year, according to Contreras. Back then, she served as the school’s Student Success Coach and said there was a want to create more space in the community for the Hermiston Center’s 46% Latino population.
“We wanted to add a Latinx Liaison title to the Student Success Coach position,” she said.
At a recent BMCC board meeting last month, members approved Selene Torres-Madrano’s contract for that dual position. Torres-Madrano also advises Unidxs.
Contreras also dreamed of organizing a special graduation celebration for the school, which would provide a more personal cultural space in addition to the BMCC graduation commencement each year. The first annual iteration of the Latinx Graduation Celebration is set to take place at the end of this school year.
“I was also trying to think of something not just driven by me,” she said. “As staff, I might not be here in a few years.”
Enter, the Unidxs club.
The club is currently comprised of six organizers and five members so far this year. The organizers are all planning on moving on to four-year universities after getting their two-year transfer degrees at BMCC and are interested in everything from journalism to kinesiology.
“It’s nice to have a space to be around people who go through the same struggles as you,” said the group’s treasurer, Brenda Mendoza.
Elias Esquival, the club’s president, puts it plainly.
“I had no friends here before this club,” he said. “I think its growth will continue.”
Their first order of business is organizing fundraisers in hopes of attending the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute conference in Chicago, Illinois, this February.
This month, they sold 134 dozen tamales and raised over $1,000 toward that goal.
Contreras said that many schools on the west side of the state, including Oregon State University, send swaths of students to the national event each year. The institute’s website describes the event as a good opportunity for young people to network with policy makers and prospective employers.
“I’m not sure if people here don’t know about it,” she said. “But no one on this side of Oregon has made attending the conference a priority.”
Esquival said that now that the initial fundraiser is over, the group is kicking back and planning more team-oriented events as well, like bowling. But they’ve also been honing their networking skills.
Recently, club members met with Hermiston-based Latino organization Raices to learn how they might help out with the organization’s events in the future.
“Part of our mission is to be involved with the community,” Mendoza said.
Contreras hopes that as the club gains momentum, its student members will develop leadership skills that they can take with them to their next college experience.
“I really want this club to be a leadership development experience,” Contreras said.