By Viridiana Saenz
City Year Columbus has been a multidimensional learning experience. Being an AmeriCorps Member at South High School has allowed me to get involved in different events and organizations, and the Latino Club has been the most special for me. As a woman and first generation Hispanic immigrant with a college degree in my family, it has been an honor for me to represent and empower Latino students at South.
A former AmeriCorps Member started the club by bringing Latino students together who would meet once per week. After starting my first days of service at the school, I heard about the club and decided to join without hesitation. The club is comprised of a small group of students. I was very surprised to see they were a significant minority in the school, so I knew I had to do something to represent their culture. Another AmeriCorps member was also interested in joining the group. Taking advantage of my first-hand experience of growing up in Mexico, together we brainstormed ideas to represent the Hispanic community in the school. We realized that the Day of the Death, best known as El Dia de Muertos, was around the corner and proposed to make an altar. The students were very excited about the idea and wanted to do the altar for their loved ones who were no longer with them. The day of the altar, each student brought something to decorate, and it turn out well.
The enthusiasm from the students motivated me to think about more ideas to empower and represent their Hispanic identity. One day, I walked by a Columbus Metropolitan library where I heard Sandra Cisneros was going to come in one of their author series. She is a Mexican-American writer, her work is in the context of cultural hybridity and economic inequality. She is well-known for her book The House on Mango Street, which is made up of unique and relatable stories. It was exciting to imagine the students reading and discussing some of the themes during our club meetings. I talked to the principal, and the school accepted to fund the books, each student got one copy for themselves. In addition to our Latino Club meetings, a couple of collaborators from The Ohio State University would come once a week for the LatinX Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER). This program is about inspiring students to pursue higher education through exploring interests, essay writing workshops, and college application preparation. Another member of my City Year team decided to join us to our meetings when LASER started. She has Hispanic background and invited a close relative to come and talk to the Latino Club in one of our meetings. His talk was very motivational and inspiring.
The students have grown significantly throughout the year when compared to when I met them at the beginning of the year. They all had the opportunity to visit the Ohio State University on a tour through the LASER program. Also, some of them participated by attending the library event and met Sandra Cisneros in person. Three of our students applied and got accepted to the Humanities and Cognitive Sciences Summer Institute which was a huge accomplishment for them. The last meeting of the academic year, my two teammates and I planned an end of the year fiesta (party) for our group. Everyone brought Mexican snacks, food, and things to share with others. One of my teammates created a poster for all to write something about our year together, and one of the students wrote in Spanish that this club made him proud for being Mexican.
All the activities and experiences from this group opened the space for us to appreciate and value our bicultural identity. I see extraordinary things in everyone who participated in this group. We all took time out of our schedule to make it happen, and I am extremely pleased City Year Columbus allowed me to have the opportunity of being part of it. This group brought joy to me throughout my year of service and instilled me with strength to keep working hard for my endeavor of becoming a physician.