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September 21, 2023

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21st Latino Issues Conference gives people venue to voice opinions

Those interested in issues of social justice, immigration and both the LGBTQ+ and Latino communities were given a venue to voice their opinions at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union on Thursday.

The 21st Latino Issues Conference, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Latino Student Union, took place from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in both Lenhart Grand Ballrooms and the Multipurpose Room.

The organizations welcomed about 250 students, faculty, staff, alumni and other community members interested in discussing the issues at hand.

“The role of the conference is to bring individuals together, both Latino and non-Latino, to understand the culture and engage in important topics,” said Associate Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Ray Plaza. “We hope that people leave with a better understanding of ‘Oh, this is what immigration is, this is what the legal process is in the U.S. and here’s some of the different resources that are available.’”

The conference included a community and cultural showcase featuring local organizations and artists, a luncheon with authentic Latino cuisine along with a keynote speech by activist Moises Serrano, a town hall-style meeting and a post-conference social.

Serrano, who immigrated to North Carolina from Mexico at 18 months old and came out as gay two years ago, considers himself an “activist through storytelling.” Serrano said that as both an undocumented student and a gay man, he thinks it’s important to be able to speak at the University about both aspects of his identity at the same time.

“We, as a generation, really have to be very intentional about our struggles and not view LGBTQ+ rights as separate from immigration rights,” Serrano said. “They are both the struggle for human rights.”

He said he hopes to have a positive impact on both movements by contributing to and opening conversation about Latino and LGBTQ+ issues.

“I think that we can change the world one conversation at a time. I really, really do,” Serrano said. “I want to start that conversation and leave them with a challenge: how can our generation be the leaders of intersectionality?”

The meeting that took place after Serrano’s speech allowed attendees to move toward just that, Plaza said. The meeting included panelists representing both sides of the immigration debate in a discussion resembling a town hall meeting.

“I think it’s important that both sides are represented at the table,” Plaza said. “What’s the real crux of the issue, why do we believe one way or the other? Our hope is to begin to have that conversation and that this leads to further discussions on this topic.”

Ashley Peguies, a Junior liberal studies major, came to the Latino Issues Conference with her sorority, Sigma Lambda Gamma, a Latina-based organization. She said she came to the event to celebrate culture and discover new student organizations.

“It’s about culture and how it ties everyone together just knowing that we all come from different places and have similar struggles,” Peguies said. “We need more things like this, more safe spaces like this for students with different identities.”

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