On May 18 and 19th MEChA held its 21st Annual Adelante Con Educacion (ACE) Conference at UW. At least 100 students from all over Washington State participated in this conference in which they have an opportunity to learn about higher education and explore the UW campus. The students participating in the conference were youth of color, mostly from Latinx immigrant families. Many of the students don’t have family members who have any higher education experience, which is why this conference was important.They can learn about financial aid and the application process as well as programs that UW has to offer. More importantly, they can learn about issues affecting the Chicanx community. MEChA members are pleasured they can provide their knowledge as students in noto only increasing education opportunities but also cultural awareness.
The two day conference consisted of keynote speakers, workshops, cultural performances as well as a gender and sexuality caucus. The keynote speaker on Friday, May 18th was a MEChA de UW alum and current community activist, Roxanna Pardo Garcia. She is based in Burien where she engages in local politics with grassroots movements and works especially close with young women of color. The Saturday keynote was Dr. Jorge R. Chacon, a case manager, mental health clinician and educator. MEChA believed that these two keynote speakers embody what if means to be “unapologetically here.” Both have different professions but as working-class people are bringing their knowledges to their communities to uplift everyone they can. Roxanna especially believes that ‘nothing will liberate the hood, but the hood itself’. Being in the political moment that we are in now, this empowerment is critical for immigrants, especially undocumented ones, in the Latinx & Chicanx community. From the travel ban to the Secretary of Education herself saying ‘its a school decision’ as to whether schools can choose to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on undocumented students, high school students are constantly are criminalized just for existing.. Therefore having powerful community leaders who are unapologetic about their identities is critical.
Another key aspect about the conference were the workshops held on the 2nd day which had all sorts of organizations and facilitators involved. One workshop titled “Tales of a Young Worker” was led by Luz Guillen, a member of 21 Progress who is also a MEChA de UW alum. Economic injustice is everywhere, and it impacts our ability to access joy, creativity, and live the life we want. Millenials of color are especially most impacted by this and statistically have the least economic mobility. Therefore, this workshop was created to have high school students engage in storytelling to explore the impact of economic injustice in their lives. Students shared their experiences as workers or the experiences of any family members or friends. From there, they learned about what it means to own one’s power within the workplace. The goal of the workshop was to have students gain an understanding of what an empowered workplace could look like and create change for a better future. Another workshop that was very impactful and informational was titled “No I’m Not Mexican: Mexico-centrism in MEChA and the Latinx Community” led by current MEChA members from Western Washington University. This workshop served as a space for dialogue on topic of Mexico-centrism in mainstream Latinx politics and how it can perpetuate violence towards South & Central Americans. An example of this includes how undocumented immigrants are often seen as Mexican, when the reality is much more complex, leaving out many voices in the process. This is especially important to be critical of because Mexico itself deports Central Americans in a similar fashion to how the United States deports Mexicans. Therefore, the workshop allowed students to deconstruct nationalism within a politics that also calls for open borders. These two workshops are few examples out of 16 options available that gave students the tools to think critically while being empowered.
The ACE Conference ended with a Poetry Slam that consisted of the students themselves reciting poems and openly talking about their feelings and takeaways from the conference. Overall, students felt they bonded with new people but also bonded closer with their peers from their schools. This experience allowed students to be vulnerable and validated in ways most conferences don’t value. MEChA wanted to be very intentional about giving a space for students to share their knowledge in ways they can’t in high school, shaping empowered individuals who are ready to pursue their dreams and know they have a whole community cheering them on. This is especially impactful because most of the students at the conference were first-generation immigrants or future first-generation college students. MEChA was also intentional about providing all their food and housing to make the ACE conference as accessible to working-class students as possible. The fundraising for the conference came from grants and donations from the Q Center, Latino Community Fund, the Ethnic Cultural Center, OMA&D and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. Without the support of centers and organizations that believe in empowering youth of color, this event wouldn’t be possible. The ACE Conference was a success for its 21st year, and MEChA hopes to continue to improve on it and make it an experience that’ll bring generations of bright and radical youth.