Raza College Day: El Congreso Reaches Out to At Risk Students
by Benjamin Wood


Over 800 high school and junior high students from diverse communities descended on the UCSB campus for RazaCollege Day, a outreach event of workshops,performances, expression, and inspiration on April 19.

Students from as far away as Fresno and San Bernardinobegan arriving as early as eight a.m. for a pandulcebreakfast in front of Campbell Hall. There, they were serenaded by a son jarocho group. Upon registration,they received free tee-shirts bearing an image of aPre-Columbian statue and were welcomed by volunteersfrom El Congreso, the sponsoring organization that carried out the event. Despite the inevitable traffic jams that prevented a few busloads of participants from arriving on time, the day got off to a spirited start.

Following a blessing by the local Danza Azteca group Malinal Xochitl, Chican@ studies Ph.D. candidate and comedian, Tomás Carrasco, delivered the invocation. Laughter filled the auditorium as his frank words about racism and the educational system reached the ears of the audience. “I know Tomás, and he jokes around, but he tells it as it is,” said Angélica Camacho, an organizer better known to the campus community as “Pickles.”

Students then attended the mandatory workshop: “the A-G requirements,” where they learned the specifics of what was required for eligibility for application to the UC.

The next set of workshops, however, allowed studentsto choose what they wanted to learn, an experience few had previously had in their educational careers. Workshop topics ranged from anti-war struggles in the barrio to the Aztec calendar, from traditional Mexican folkdance to the science that makes the speaker in you boombox boom.

Held in two sessions, the workshops were facilitated by UCSB students, alumni, and community activists. Workshop facilitators made up only a portion of the two-hundred volunteers that gave their time to ensure a successful event. “Raza College Day is what it’s all about. It’s our chance to give back, to remember that somebody helped you get here, so now it’s time to turn around and help somebody else,” said Camacho. Volunteers are essential to the conference, she said, because the high schools and the universities are not reaching out to these students. “We have to reach out to the kids the schools don’t give a chance to.”

The purpose of the workshops, Camacho continued, “is to empower students and make them aware of the fact that they have a rich history, plug them into what is going on in their community, and ultimately, politicize them.” As one of the workshops informed participants, the numbers of what the University calls “underrepresented minorities” enrolled in the UC has decreased since the passage of California proposition 209, dubbed by proponents as “racial privacy initiative” and criticized by opponents as a deterrent to minority enrollment.

The day’s serious educational focus, however, did not prohibit the attendees from fully enjoying themselves as they danced to lunchtime music provided by DJs from local radio station 103.3 The Vibe.

Following the two workshop sessions and lunch, el Congreso’s guests returned to Campbell Hall for a motivational speech by the filipina orator Eden. Students were responsive to the speaker and her message. “She’s got a hip hop aesthetic, and she’s young and very down-to earth. She got down on the spoken word, and that’s something the kids pay attention to,” said Camacho. Kitzia Esteva, a second-year global studies major and Raza College Day volunteer, witnessed the impact Eden had on one group of students. “On the way back to Santa Barbara High School, they were talking about her and how inspirational she was. People were crying,” Esteva explained.

Ultimately the goals of the workshop were to have students think critically about their own education, and help advance their own communities.