Embracing Community, Culture and Heritage at El Centro

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Dora Frias, Director of El Centro at Colorado State University Nov. 1. Originally from El Paso, Texas, Frias found CSU and began working to provide guidance about career paths, reconnection of Hispanic cultures and personal development to the LatinX community. (Tri Duong | College Ave)

Mara Scullion

With a beautiful palette of bright, vibrant colors and patterns dancing together in unity to create an outstanding representation of their community, the new wall wrap outside of El Centro  is sure to stop anyone in their tracks. Although still suffering from the impacts of the pandemic like many other Student Diversity Programs and Services, El Centro has been making some changes to ensure this year reflects CSU’s diverse student population and staff.  By including textiles and art from different Latin American countries(not just Mexico as previous artwork displayed), Dora Frias, director of El Centro, hopes to more accurately represent the beautiful palette of bright and vibrant cultures on campus. 

 

The new wall wrap in front of the El Centro office located at the Lory Student Center on Aug. 30, 2021. (Anna Tomka | The Collegian)

 

The heart of the Latinx community lies in El Centro. With new artwork, a logo and an even more inclusive mindset, El Centro is here to serve the needs of its community. Along with several annual events planned during Latinx Heritage Month, El Centro provides undocumented resources, counseling, financial aid opportunities, monthly events and so many more community building opportunities. 

 

Having an extensive background at the Pride Resource Center on campus, Dora Frias is bringing even more diversity and inclusion into an already vibrant space. While chatting about the new and exciting events taking place year round, Frias was also able to take a moment and reflect on how and why she got where she is today.

 

Gaining her master’s of student affairs in higher education at CSU, Frias has a long history of education, diversity work, and knowledge at CSU. Although ambitious and hard working, as a member of multiple intersecting identities that endure oppression, she has faced an excessive and disproportionate amount of adversity throughout her journey.

 

 “There was very little queer representation on TV, and there was even less queer Latinx representation in the media,” Frias said. “So, it wasn’t until I was 25 years old until I met another queer Latina working in higher education, and that really allowed for me to finally see myself reflected in the things that I wanted to do.”

 

Having someone to look up to helps shape our view of the world and find value within ourselves. Students like Frias need this type of support more than ever before. Ashley Parra López, a member of multiple intersecting communities, including the Latinx community on campus, took the time to reflect on how important it is for her community to be portrayed as equal members of society rather than be valued for the harmful stereotypes presented in pop culture.

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  • Perla Rodriguez, Student Event Coordinator, showcases her sugar skull at El Centro in the Lory Student Center Nov. 1. Rodriguez organized the alumni and community memorial alters as well as setting up the sugar skull decoration activities for Dia de Muertos. (Tri Duong | College Ave)

  • For Day of the Dead, a variety of colored frosting is used to decorate sugar skulls at El Centro in the Lory Student Center Nov. 1. (Tri Duong | College Ave)

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“We shouldn’t allow the world to think we are only good for lawn work, field work or housekeeping services,” Parra López said.  “We hold so much more potential and power. I think when we see ourselves reflected in positions of power, we too know qué sí se puede.”

 

Sí se puede may directly translate to “it can be done”, but within the Latinx community this phrase is used to uplift and comfort one another when the detrimental effects of discrimination and oppression may make one feel powerless according to Parra López. Seeing accurate representation in the media is a reminder to the community that anything is possible, and that it can be done. 

 

 Referring to the detrimental effects of harmful and inaccurate forms of representation, Frias explained,  “I shouldn’t have had to have waited that long to see somebody in a career that held the same identities that I held.”

 

Now, years later, simply by owning her position in the world with pride, she is actively resisting that very weight that held her down so many years back. By presenting herself honestly with pride to her community, she is aiding and providing a space for her communities to grow and prosper. 

 

Students at El Centro decorates sugar skulls for Day of the Dead
Students at El Centro in the Lory Student Center decorate sugar skulls for Day of the Dead Nov. 1. In memory of loved ones that have past, sugar skulls are made to represent the soul’s return on this day. (Tri Duong | College Ave)

 

“Just to see that queer folks and queer folks of color can be professionals, can have a family, can get married, can live our fulfilling, joyful, thriving lives— it’s a big reason why I do the work that I do in these specific identity spaces,” Frias said. 

 

Growing from her past, she said she has become the very person she so desperately wished she would have had as a role model all those years ago.

 

Hearing more about the thriving Latinx community on campus and their yearly and monthly events, Frias hopes more students will come visit the center. “We have a lot of individual and collective healing to do,” Frias said. 

 

She hopes by making herself visible in this community she can inspire others to see pride within themselves for the many and multiple identities that we all hold. Community is one of the most vital aspects of navigating the world around you, and for many at CSU it all starts at El Centro.