The 2019 Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA) Conference occurred at the University of Utah on Feb. 27. High school students from Ogden to Provo gathered on campus to participate in this annual event. The theme of this year’s conference was “Con Mi Gente y Mi Lapiz Enfrente” (With My People and My Pencil In Front) and centered around art.
A volunteer at the conference named Carlos, an ethnic studies and gender studies major, said that he felt like MEChA is “ultimately at the end of the day … culturally relevant.” He also said that high school students previously “didn’t think about college until [they were] able to connect with these different groups” and that he believes this conference encourages and enables kids to apply at the U.
Just outside the Union ballroom, tables were set up where different groups from around campus were available to discuss different programs with conference attendees. Keynote speakers addressed the crowd, followed by several conference workshops. The MEChA leaders also kicked off the conference by leading the high school participants in a tradition called the “Unity Clap.”
Jorge Arellano, a punk rocker, was one of the keynote speakers and told the students to “create art and share it with your community.” He expressed a message that “more than words, you can bring something visual,” and that he was “excited to see where [the students] will be in the future.”
Ella Mendoza, an activist and artist, was the other keynote speaker. Mendoza told the students that everyone has to start somewhere and that “before we were these people, we started at our roots.” She then asked how many of the participants were the first to think about going to college. Many in the audience raised their hands and yelled. Her next question was how many people are or know immigrants, and this question also yielded a similar response.
Mendoza told the high school students “all we have is each other.” Her thoughts centered around unity and not letting others tell you who you are as well as embracing your roots. “If there is anything I can tell you young people … Those walls around you — no one else is going to crumble them down, you have to do it yourself,” she said.
The two keynote speakers presented a slideshow that included slide titles such as “Art creates COMMUNITY, by creating a world that has yet to exist,” “Art connects us. It crosses borders” and “They tried to bury us — They didn’t know we had THORNS.” Arellano and Mendoza also presented a banner with butterflies on it that read: “Immigrants Make Communities Great.” Mendoza also set out markers for the high school participants to finish decorating the butterflies.
Sarah Orozco is an ethnic and gender studies major and the high school conference coordinator. When asked why she believes MEChA is important, Orozco responded, “I think it’s important because a lot of times you don’t see Latinos represented in higher education.” She wants the high school students who are looking into college to know that “college is accessible to them” and that there are a “variety of studies” open for them to explore. Orozco said the purpose of this conference is to make students “feel more comfortable and understand it [college] better.” She also commented that the MEChA Conference is “not just for Latinos, but we are open to anyone and want minors to understand we are accessible education.”