Conference encourages high school Latinos

By and

Enchiladas, rice, beans and churros filled the plates of more than 500 Latino high school students from around the valley Tuesday in the Union Ballroom. At the same time, high schoolers busted box beats and rhymes in an open mic freestyle rap contest.

The lunch was part of the Ninth Annual Chicana/o Latino/a Youth Leadership Conference, which student group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o De Aztlan organizes.

M.E.Ch.A.-located in the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs-chose this year’s theme, “The power of tomorrow is in your hands today: education or excuses?” to help motivate students of the Latino community to graduate from high school and to think about college, something that doesn’t always happen automatically among Latino students.

According to Mateo Montoya, co-chairman of the group, more than 50 percent of Latino students in Utah don’t even graduate from high school. Nationwide, the high school graduation rate for Latinos was 54 percent in 1998.

“The goal of the conference is to promote leadership development, cultural awareness, self-pride, higher education and [to discuss] current issues that impact Latina/o communities,” Montoya said.

Despite low graduation rates, attendance rates at this conference were high. About 560 students from 20 schools were present.

Carlos Cueva, a M.E.Ch.A. organizer of the event, expressed his surprise at the large turnout. “I didn’t think so many people would come.”

So many students were interested in attending the conference, in fact, that some were regretfully turned away due to lack of accommodations.

“[They] missed out,” said Copper Hills High School student Daniela Lopez. “It was fun and I learned a lot about what it takes to come here,” she said.

Ashley Casillas, a student from Granite High School, agreed about the conference’s usefulness. “[The conference] helps to push us forward.”

Both students plan on attending college.

The conference hosted workshops throughout the day dealing with ways to pay for college through scholarships and financial aid, making healthy life choices and the Latina/o culture.

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