If there’s anything you should take away from the community service-based organization, Latino Union (LU), it’s that at its heart, it is a family. Ever since Latino Union was established in the fall of 2005 at UCR, the organization has grown to become a place where they “try to provide a comfortable environment for (their) members where they can give back to the community, but also have fun doing so by meeting new people, making new connections and creating new bonds,” as explained by fourth-year biology major and current president of LU, Alejandro Cuellar.
The types of community service LU does varies, with unique activities such as street cleanups, helping and consoling at-risk teens at Operation Safehouse and packing food at their local food bank for those who are hungry. The club has helped out on campus by planting trees and helping Cigarette Butt Bashes, a group that cleans up leftover cigarette butts across campus.
LU is also focused on promoting higher education and helping those who don’t have adequate financial opportunities for college. Fourth-year biochemistry major and vice president Fernando Villagomez Perez explained that they “fundraise throughout the whole year in order to be able to award two incoming students to UCR with a $500 scholarship each and we also fundraise to provide our members the same opportunity to apply for our scholarship as well.” In fact, it was the act of giving out scholarships that Villagomez was inspired to pursue the position of vice president. He added, “As an incoming freshman at UCR, I was a recipient of the Latino Union scholarship … I wanted to be in charge of scholarships as Vice President because I know that any amount helps and I know the impact it can have on someone’s education and career.”
With community service and scholarships under its belt, LU has become a champion, literally. In the past years, UCR has been home to the Highlander Games, a social tournament where different organizations across campus try to gather up points by doing social activities. LU is not to be underestimated when it comes to their social aspect, because the club has won the Highlander Games five years in a row. This year though, the Highlander Games are nowhere to be seen. Cuellar joked that, “I don’t know if it was because we won it too much. They were really trying to find another way to incorporate more people or to have other people win.”
LU is also committed to being very social, and finds time to do other fun activities. In fact, recently the organization held their seventh annual LU Library Event, which was based on the animated film “Rio.” Third-year sociology major and activities coordinator, Maritza Rocha, explained that the event had them “going out to the community and reaching out to children to promote education (by giving) out free books and (having them do) a set of activities like arts and crafts.” It turned out to be a huge success for them as the library was packed with children and their parents watching LU perform a skit from the film.
Giving back to the community is important, but that wouldn’t be possible without the love, passion and care its members express. Juanita Aguilar, a second-year sociology major and LU member, wasn’t sure what to expect when coming to UCR as a first-generation college student moving to a new city all by herself. “It was a big transition in my life,” said Aguilar, “but Latino Union made me feel at home. I was hesitant to go to the first general meeting … but I’m glad I did. Since the first meeting I knew I wanted to join LU.”
Similarly, LU member and third-year biochemistry major, Ismael Aguirre, is grateful for the organization, saying, “I don’t think I have ever joined or been part of an organization that has shown so much consideration and compassion towards its members. It almost doesn’t feel like you’re doing community service because … when you’re out there giving back to the community, it almost seems as if you’re just hanging out, but for like a good cause.
As the end of LU’s 10 year anniversary as an organization and his last year at UCR draws to a close, Cuellar has been really proud of the work they’ve done and has acknowledged that over the years LU has grown to become “one of the largest community service organizations on campus and one of the largest Latino organizations on campus as well.” He hopes LU will go on for another 10 years and will keep expanding to welcome new members to its family. “You’re a family once you go in,” stated Cuellar. “We try and welcome everybody and hope everybody feels welcome.”
The organization also has a new tagline, “Todo por LU,” which translated from Spanish means “Everything for LU.” The officers and members have shown that they sacrifice many hours of the day, dedicating them to LU to make it not just another organization on campus, but a family of students that love what they do and share that passion with their local community.