27 years of admiration and inspiration

Lydia Tsou/HIGHLANDER
Lydia Tsou/HIGHLANDER

The sound of skateboard wheels grazing across the cement echoes under the arches. A cluster of students and faculty weave between one another as they hustle up the brick staircase. Doors open and Highlanders filter through the towers of books or stare at computer screens for any kind of inspiration for their work. But do they realize they sit in the biggest inspiration of UCR? Rivera Library is not only a historical staple on campus, but it stands in its six-decade glory to be a reminder of why we are all here. On Friday, Feb. 20, UCR celebrated the 27th annual Tomas Rivera Conference, in honor of former UCR Chancellor Tomas Rivera himself and the legacy he created for higher education.

Many students have heard the stories time and time again of the library — named after the youngest as well as the first minority and first Chicano Chancellor of the University of California. Tomas Rivera (1954-1984) touched countless souls throughout his work in higher education and continues to do so. Political figures, faculty and students gathered for the conference to pay homage to Rivera and his work for not only UCR as a whole, but also the members of the Hispanic community. This year’s theme, “Comunidad y Salud” or “Community and Wellness” focused on the intersection of wellness and awareness just in time for UCR’s recent award of the National Endowment for the Humanities with the status as a Hispanic-serving institution.

Tiffany Lopez, conference endowed chair as well as professor of theater, film and digital production, opened the conference with a warm thank you to all the participants, volunteers and guests. She credited the members of Chicano Student Programs as the driving force for the conference as they guided guests to their seats before the first speaker, assemblymember Jose Medina, replaced Lopez on the mic. An incredible force within the community, Medina goes beyond teaching Latin American studies and history and walks the path of civic morality, in which Rivera originally paved the way. He believes in conducting that personal responsibility of keeping education accessible and advocates how education is the foundation.

“Buenos dias!” Medina greeted the audience with a “good day” before he revealed his history with not only Lopez, the first Latina professor in UCR’s English department, but Rivera himself as well. Meeting Rivera through his work, the impact of the Chicano struggle inspired him to further encourage more Chicano students. A great scholar, novelist and poet, Rivera would walk off the campus to meet with young Latino students. This inspired Medina’s curriculum as a professor to teach Rivera’s work, and carries on the culture throughout the creative works.

Guests and speakers moved next door to find rows of tables, vases of flowers lining each as they sat before the small stage that held the Grammy-award winning band Quetzal. The wall of HUB 302 was a backdrop to an endless row of fresh food for all. Salads, sandwiches and fresh-brewed coffee tempted everyone to indulge. The band of a violinist, drummer, bassist and acoustic guitarist tuned their instruments. Martha Gonzalez, lead singer of Quetzal, took the stage, gourd shaker in hand and tap shoes strapped. Music boomed instantly throughout the third floor of the HUB. This inside-out maraca and Gonzalez’s tap dancing added two more powerful instruments to their already heart-pounding music.

Quetzal spreads awareness for health and wellness with their narrative lyrics of suffrage and perseverance driving home the theme of the conference. “You know what they say,” the hilarious Martha began, “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!” She encouraged everyone to stand up and dance, to fuel the energy that was already present. Students and faculty joined hand in hand on the dance floor to continue the celebration.

After the refreshments were out and everyone was out of breath, we all moved back to the previous room to find out more about the master workshops that were going to be held. Outside speakers as well as UCR professors sat before the audience to explain their workshops and purposes. “First we are going to analyze why you chose this workshop and then we’ll go from there,” poet and theater artist Luis Alfaro joked. Each shared their own personal stories of healing from grief, struggle and depression. Actor and playwright Raquel Salinas shared her experiences with working to break the cycles of addiction. Alfaro opened up his past of his father’s hospice care and powerful lessons in playwriting and performance.

The many other speakers related to each other as they used their creativity and passion for performance to depict how anyone can overcome any obstacle. Luis Enriquez, registered nurse and a featured subject in the film Code Black, joined the School of Medicine to discuss the physician’s perspective about the LA County Hospital Emergency Medicine Department. Enriquez brought tears to himself and everyone around as he shared his tale of the brick wall he has built himself to deal with the trauma he endures every day with his patients. “I have taught myself to have a wall, because I can’t be like this in front of them … I have to be strong for two people and it gets hard. But I teach my students to do the same,” professed Enriquez. Each workshop offered so much for everyone — the choices were difficult as it is. However, once the intros were over, everyone scurried to their workshop of choice.

Although many attendees left the event after their workshops, a small group of people returned to HUB 302 to share what they learned. Some merely took the microphone and spoke about their experiences, while others displayed their finished projects, whether it was a series of comics about the difficulty some people face in simply seeing a doctor or expressing the pain of loss through song. One group took to dance, each of the four members twirling fabric — bright gold, royal purple, vivacious orange — to an upbeat tempo. Nervousness was clear on each person’s face, but there was also a flicker of contended joyousness, with none more so than the beaming Salinas, proud to see people stepping out of their comfort zones and becoming a part of the moment.

In fact, the theme of the event seemed to be about visualizing life through different perspectives, yet sharing a common humanity. When people finished stepping up to the stage to describe what they learned, it was the cue for the crowd of white coat-adorned medical students who had been steadily filling the galley to take the floor and speak. They recited the UCR medical student oath, reaffirming their ethic-bound honor to the people they serve, no matter their origin, history or identity, and applause erupted from the audience at the students’ pledge of working toward the public good. The energy flowed to the students, who began cheering and hugging one another. When it finally died down, and the crowd began dissipating from the room, each held the promise of self-improvement and help for each other in their smiles and in their hearts.

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