A close-up of a sign in the League that says "Forum Hall" and "Great Lakes Room"
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On Friday, over 150 students, faculty members and professors in the Latinx community came together in the Greats Lakes Room in Palmer Commons for the annual LatinXcellence event hosted by La Casa, a student organization at the University of Michigan founded to support and empower the Latinx community on campus. The event — La Casa’s last of the academic year —  welcomed American Culture Professor William Calvo-Quirós as the keynote speaker and celebrated the accomplishments of the Latinx community through various awards.  

LSA freshman Christian Loredo-Duran, the lead coordinator of LatinXcellence, spoke on LatinXcellence and what it means to the Latinx community on campus. 

“(LatinXcellence) is an event in which we’re able to celebrate one another, advocate one another and support one another … and (celebrate) all of the accomplishments that we have had,” Loredo-Duran said. “On the personal (level), but also as a community, like recognizing how we have been able to advocate for ourselves and support each other throughout the years.”

The theme of this year’s LatinXcellence was “Si puedes soñarlo, puedes hacerlo,” which translates to “if you can dream it, you can make it happen.” Loredo-Duran said it was important to the planning committee of LatinXcellence that the theme of the event inspire the community and convey that dreams are possible, especially to those who are experiencing anxiety returning to campus after the pandemic. 

“Just bringing that theme together and being able to come together one final time before we all head out for the summer was something that is truly what LatinXcellence is all about,” Loredo-Duran said. “Empowering students and making them aware that this past year, they were able to overcome so many obstacles and truly become a part of history here at the University of Michigan.” 

LSA junior Brandon De Martinez, LatinXcellence committee member, described LatinXcellence as a multicultural event where attendees can enjoy food from different Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina and Colombia. He also stressed the importance of celebrating the Latinx community and the Latinx cultures on campus as one of the goals of the event. 

“We’re going to come all together as a Latinx community and celebrate being part of the Latinx community next to the food, the people, the community and the celebrations,” De Martinez said. 

“Si puedes soñarlo, puedes hacerlo” was also the title of Calvo-Quirós’ keynote speech. Citing multiple civil rights movements throughout history, Calvo-Quirós discussed the role that dreaming plays in societal progress. 

“Dreaming of a world outside slavery and racism had been a practice for social change within many … civil rights movements,” Calvo-Quirós said. “Think about, for example, the women’s rights movement for voting. Somebody dreamed of a moment that that was possible, and it happened. The same thing with the LGBTQ community and gay marriage. So dreaming is an important way that we can imagine how the world can be.” 

In his speech, Calvo-Quirós spoke on the “gerrymandering of freedom,” which argues that freedom is not equally distributed among communities, as some groups are given easier access to freedom than others. He said the recent anti-mask movement is an example of how the meaning of freedom is reinterpreted to further put members of minority communities, especially essential workers, at higher risk during the pandemic. 

“Freedom is not free,” Calvo-Quirós said. “It requires a constant effort to secure it. The violent fight for the freedom (not to wear) masks, despite the overwhelming medical evidence that it is required for the safety of society, is an example of how the concept of freedom has been redefined.”

Calvo-Quirós said that dreaming is more important now than ever and encouraged his listeners to dream about what they envision the world to be to change it for the better. 

“Dreams are like the address that we put in a GPS,” Calvo-Quirós said. “But remember, there will always be unpredicted obstacles, changes in the world. So the smartest thing we can do is tune in to always recalculate.” 

LSA freshman Andrea Gonzalez, an attendee of LatinXcellence and a member of La Casa, said she could connect her personal experiences with Calvo-Quirós’s speech. 

“I feel like I can relate so much to him,” Gonzalez said. “I personally am a student who’s in search of the American Dream … Being here at the University of Michigan was in fact one of my dreams that I was able to accomplish, and (Calvo-Quirós’s) speech was able to highlight how you can have a goal and a dream and you can achieve it.” 

This year’s LatinXcellence also recognized the achievements and contributions made by U-M Latinx community members. Laura Saavedra, the GEAR UP Program Director at the University, received the Mildred Tirado “Lucha” Award, which recognizes members in the Latinx community whose work has empowered the community on campus. Cesar Vargas-Leon, Program Manager for The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University, received the Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa “El Primero” Award, which recognizes Latinx scholars who focus on Latinx narratives in their works. Finally, Social Work senior Esau Delgado and Public Policy senior Julianna Collado received the Yvonne Guadalupe Navarrete “Legacy” Award, named after the first La Casa director, which recognizes the contributions of leaders in the Latinx community on campus.   

Vargas-Leon encouraged the attendees of LatinXcellence to listen to their hearts as they decide where their future will lead. 

“I want you to continue on dreaming,” Vargas said. “Continue on taking care of yourselves, continue on investing in your mental well-being and, most importantly, continue on self-authoring your life. Use your internal voice to continue on guiding you because it is that, your voice from your heart that will guide you in a direction that you shall go.”  

Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at tinapyyu@umich.edu