By Prof. John Riofrio.
On December 8, 2016, William and Mary held it’s first-ever Latinx Alumni Reunion in the William and Mary Washington, D.C. Office. Entitled, Encuentro Latino, this exciting first-time event was conceptualized as an opportunity para encontrarse y encontrarnos – to encounter and reconnect with one another. Associate Professor of Hispanic and Latinx Studies John Riofrio, “Rio”, was thrilled at the invitation to offer the evening’s keynote address.
Jessica F. Chilin-Hernández (class of 2012, French and Francophone Studies), who co-organized the event with the Assistant Director of Regional Alumni Engagement Jack Edgar (class of 2015), beautifully articulated the importance of the event for her. “When I first arrived at William and Mary, I felt as if I was the first of my kind: Salvadoran, immigrant, native-Spanish speaker. The founding, however, of the Latin American Student Union in 2009 revealed the presence of Latinxs on campus in ways that I had simply not imagined. The formation of LASU created a space for Latinxs to come together and explore who we were both as individuals and as a community.” WM’s first Encuentro Latino is the first step (of many!) whose sole purpose is to highlight the long-standing presence and contribution of Latinxs on William and Mary’s campus while enabling the possibility for remaining a tightly-connected community well beyond the years spent at William and Mary.
Eager to move beyond simply networking professionally, Encuentro was conceptualized as an opportunity to form new friendships and to renew a bond in the Tribe spirit that defines William and Mary. It was also, importantly, a space to speak Spanish, Spanglish and English, too, because Latina/LatinX/Latino identities cannot, and should not, be confined to one language, one experience, one narrative, one set of words to tell its stories.
The event dovetailed beautifully with William and Mary’s ongoing For the Bold campaign in that one of the primary goals of the campaign is to strengthen alumni engagement with William and Mary. The Encuentro Latino was an effort to connect to an alumni population that had yet to be addressed in a way resonant with their academic interests, passions and particular cultural distinctions. Professor Rio’s talk on the virtues of civil engagement and the need for joy within struggle led to a fantastic group discussion that lasted well beyond the event’s stated end time.
Over the next year, Jess Chilin and Jack are planning more events that will recruit more alumni volunteers to the cause, connecting alumni with professors and academic programs at the College, and giving LatinX alumni the chance to engage and support students of color at William & Mary. The success story of LASU and the first Encuentro Latino represents all that can be accomplished when individual alumni passions, demand, and staff support intersect in meaningful ways.