When Ximena Sanchez-Ramirez arrived at Illinois State, she felt homesick until coming across the Association of Latinx American Students (ALAS). Just one year later, she is thriving as the secretary of the registered student organization.
“Joining ALAS really helped me develop a family away from home,” said Sanchez-Ramirez, a sophomore from Kankakee majoring in elementary education and minoring in Spanish. “As a freshman and a first-generation student, you’re scared because you’re on your own for the first time. Knowing that you have an organization that supports you and your culture just really makes you feel welcome and at home.”
ALAS Treasurer Daisy Rodriguez, Student Government Association representative Emily Renteria, and President Mario Romero all recall similar experiences when arriving on campus and discovering ALAS.
“I come from a very Hispanic neighborhood that is very rich in culture, so just coming here and having that culture shock was kind of overwhelming at first,” said Romero, a senior marketing major from Chicago. “ALAS helped with making new friends, building new relationships, and also building marketable skills.”
ALAS provides Redbirds with opportunities to sharpen their professional skills. “We gain so many leadership opportunities and networking opportunities,” said Renteria, a junior from Elgin majoring in family and consumer sciences and minoring in Spanish. “We get to bring meaningful topics to light in our community.”
About 100 students have signed up through ALAS’ Redbird Life page for the biweekly newsletters that Sanchez-Ramirez sends out. “I send out scholarship opportunities and other different opportunities that people might have not heard about,” said Sanchez-Ramirez. “I also promote our upcoming programs. We hope people come to our programs, forget about all their troubles, and just have fun at our events.”
Cultural events have always been a major part of ALAS, and according to Romero, the history of ALAS on campus dates to 1972. In a typical semester, ALAS would host its biweekly meetings as well as events in-person. This semester, the group has shifted its regularly scheduled activities to Zoom due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“There is such a thing as Zoom fatigue, so we do try to make it as interactive as possible,” said Renteria. “We start off with icebreakers so that everyone can get engaged. We utilize breakout rooms to create a more intimate space. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable speaking, they can feel free to use the chat box. It’s important to be accommodating with Zoom.”
One ALAS tradition has been especially hard to replicate this semester—volunteering in the community. In the past, ALAS members have volunteered at youth organizations such as the Children’s Discovery Museum. They are still proud of a time last year where they organized English as a Second Language (ESL) books at the museum.
“Before COVID, we had a community service opportunity once every month,” said Renteria. “It has obviously been a little harder to go out in the community now.
“We try to make a difference specifically within the Latinx community.”
As the group continues to host events via Zoom for the foreseeable future, the members want their fellow Redbirds to know that all are welcome to join. “We are always welcoming new faces,” said Rodriguez, a junior from Melrose Park majoring in business administration and minoring in international business. “We always meet Thursdays at 7 p.m.”