The Latin American and Latina/o Studies Program Alumni Spotlight highlights the educational and work experiences of our alumni. Here we celebrate the educational journeys and successes of our students. We recently connected with Victor Brito ’20 to learn about his experiences after graduating from Illinois State University.

Brito is from Crystal Lake, a northwestern suburb of Chicago. He was raised as he told us by two amazingly hard-working parents that came to Illinois from Las Vueltas, Mexico. Brito did not attend Illinois State directly after high school. He went to McHenry County College because as said, “It was close to home, and it allowed me to work on my grades.” Brito reflected that he does not regret attending a community college before Illinois State because this gave him the opportunity to grow personally, academically, and socially. “If it weren’t for McHenry County College, I would never have had the chance to explore and fall in love with sociology.”

Illinois State became the perfect place for his studies because it allowed him to be close to home, but also have some independence to grow. Brito graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and minor in Latin American and Latino studies (LALS) in 2020. In the midst of the pandemic, he worried about getting a job and moving forward. He landed a great opportunity when he was hired by the Youth and Family Center of McHenry County.

As of March, he has taken a position as Student Success Coach at Elgin Community College. “I found a passion for academic advising, so I will be leaving my current position to take on this new role at the community college,” he said. Brito is also very proud of the fact that his sister, Daniela Bernal, will be a student at Illinois State University in fall 2022, majoring in sociology, too. She is transferring from Elgin Community College.

Can you tell me about where you are in your career and how you got there from ISU?

After graduating from ISU, finding a job was super difficult because of COVID-19. I got hired as a program director at the Youth and Family Center of McHenry County, a nonprofit organization. We provide social services to our community connecting them to resources. We also provide a free after-school program to students in our community first through 12th grade.

How was life after college and during the pandemic?

I can honestly say that it was great. I don’t want to say I’m grateful for the pandemic because lots of people have been affected by it. But before the lockdown happened that year of 2020, I feared what my life would be post-graduating. Now thinking back, I am thankful that it gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life after college. I paid off my loans which I’m super proud of. I would have loved to have gotten that student loan relief, but I didn’t. Not having to turn in homework and assignments for a grade feels great.

Have you been able to use the knowledge you gained as a Latin American and Latino/a studies student in your work?

Of course, 95% of the clients we serve identify as Latinos. The knowledge I learned included things such as cultural awareness and communication with individuals, which are tools I use every day.

In what ways did declaring a Latin American and Latina/o studies minor complement your studies? Would you recommend this plan of study to other students and what inspired you to get the LALS minor?

Yes, I definitely recommend students take the minor because it is important for individuals to become more culturally aware. The minor prepares you and challenges you to learn about different communities. I also wanted to learn more about what it means to be Latino, in particular how Latino communities are changing the United States. I love my culture, and the minor inspired me to learn from Latinos of different nationalities, linguistic practices, how we speak Spanish, the music and dancing is similar but different at the same time.

What’s an unexpected benefit you obtained from getting a minor in LALS?

An unexpected benefit from the program was learning about Afro-Latinos. I took a class about the Afro-Latino experience, and it was an amazing course that taught me about the importance of African descendants on Latin America.

What advice would you give college students currently attending ISU who are considering the minor? What advice would you give to minority students considering the minor?

Go for it. You are going to love it. Ask all the questions that you have.

I know what it felt to be a minority at ISU, which is a primarily white institution (PWI). This minor gave me a home on campus that allowed me to feel represented and allowed me to do research on topics that are close to my heart. Topics such a reggaeton, dancing cumbias, just in general feeling comfortable in my community.

Any fond memories of the ISU campus?

Walking from class to class through the Quad every day was so peaceful. I enjoyed hanging out with friends and doing homework at Milner (Library) late into the evenings. Going to the rec to play soccer was also a great time.

Would you like to go back to school? What are your academic interests/ what would you go back to do?

Part of me would love to go back to school to get a master’s in higher education and serve as an academic advisor. Only thing that holds me back is the cost of it all.

Anything else you’d like for people to know or that you would like to tell students or those in the LALS minor?

The advice that I would give current and future students is do not be afraid to ask questions. You’re paying for your education, and you should get the most out of it. The minor provides the space and possibility to feel at home with your cultural background. Lastly, connect with your professors they are there to provide you with the support you need as students.