by Micah Wilkins, online staff writer
Senior Carlos Lara was taken aback one day last semester when he saw a table set up in Gladfelter celebrating an upcoming holiday. The poster on the table read, “Day of the Dead: A Mexican tradition.”
“That was like the last drop of water in the glass that tipped it,” Lara said. “It was like the turning point.”
As a Guatemalan, Lara was hurt to see that this holiday, celebrated in most of Latin America, had been reduced to an exclusively “Mexican tradition.”
“In the U.S., everything is ‘Mexican,’” Lara said.
Lara shared his sentiments about the lack of knowledge surrounding Latino/a culture with several other students. At the end of last semester, he e-mailed others who he thought might be interested in starting a group on campus.
The group met and has shaped into what is now WHOLA, or Wilson’s Herman@s Orgull@s en Las Americas (Proud Brothers & Sisters of the Americas), using the at sign to remain gender neutral. A similar organization exists at University of North Carolina Asheville and the two groups met to provide support and exchange ideas. The Warren Wilson sector, which meets every week in the Multicultural Resource Center, plans to work on more than just awareness.
“There’s only so much awareness you can do without actually taking action,” Lara said. “I want the group to spread awareness but at the same time actually get stuff done. People need to know, but also they need to be experiencing other cultures.”
“Nowadays, a lot of things are related to immigration,” he added. This is one issue which WHOLA and other groups addressing Latino/a issues will have to face sooner or later, as controversy over immigration policy and undocumented people in the U.S. has existed for years and the debate regarding illegal aliens attending American schools has become especially heated.
Three weeks ago, the North Carolina State House Republicans filed House Bill 11, which would ban undocumented persons from attending state community colleges and universities. Many immigrant rights groups oppose the bill and plan to fight it if it grows more popular.
While the issue of illegal aliens receiving American education remains controversial, at a work college like Warren Wilson, the issue is even more complicated.
According to Dean of Work Ian Robertson, for Warren Wilson to be a designated work college, all residential students are required to work. As the work is taxable, residential students, upon their arrival, must fill out the Employment Eligibility Verification form, or the I-9, which requires employers to provide proof of citizenship.
“I hope that at some point undocumented students will be able to attend Warren Wilson as freely as anybody,” Robertson said. “We may not necessarily agree with the law, but we have to follow it at this point. But we’re actively working to change it.”
But before tackling this enormous issue, WHOLA is working on their mission statement. According to WHOLA member and junior Ana Baranda, for now, WHOLA is only assembling as a group of like-minded people to discuss Latino/a culture, issues and more.
“I initially started coming [to WHOLA] because there’s such a small number of Latinos that go [to Warren Wilson] and I wanted to get them all into one space,” said Baranda. “But after coming to a couple meetings, I feel more comfortable that the collective struggle is not just for Latinos but for all those who are conscious.”