Both Daniel (Danny) Garcia ’84 and Larry Arias ’84 remember what things were like when they were some of the few Latinos at Hamilton. Both from the Bronx, their paths would cross at the college and both would lay the seeds for what would become the organization La Vanguardia (LV). The organization will celebrate its 35th anniversary on Oct. 5 with more than 24 alumni returning.
“It (LV) all just really happened organically,” says Garcia. “The few of us Latinos at the time ended up connecting, finding ways to support each other through our struggles, and even began to talk about this cultural void at Hamilton.”
Both Garcia and Arias worked to fill that void and build community by becoming members of the Black Latin Student Union (BLSU) in the fall of 1980. Over the years, they both pushed for support of Latinx students on campus while also establishing various cultural traditions that have continued to this day. Even with all of their hard work, they still faced various issues when trying to create their own organization.
“We tried to make our own Latin American organization, but they wanted us to have a unanimous vote of all the Latinos on-campus,” says Garcia. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to separate from the BLSU by the time me and Danny graduated, but a Latina student was able to establish La Vanguardia in the fall of 1984 after we left.”
Over the years, La Vanguardia has successfully achieved its goal to provide a space for Latinx students to build community and find support on campus. Sandra Ortega ’97 recounts how important the organization LV was for her when she was one of the few Latinas in her class.
“It was extremely important for me to belong to a welcoming organization that felt like home and was not judgemental of things like my accent, me being from an inner city, me looking different than most of my classmates,” says Ortega. “It was very easy to find such a place in La Vanguardia.”
Ortega served as treasurer, vice-president, and president of LV during her time at Hamilton. Finding strength, community, and resilience through the organization during her freshman year, Ortega worked hard to continue providing that space for underclassmen.
“There were a lot of times my first year when I was ready to run back home to Brooklyn, but I always remembered that I had found a new home with LV and always had people to lean on,” says Ortega. “I did my best to continue that legacy and always tried to support others and be a source of guidance for students in need.”
After 35 years of building community and highlighting important social issues at Hamilton, La Vanguardia remains an impactful and necessary organization for Latinx students at the college. Its mission to enrich campus diversity through critical conversation over the years has not only created a welcoming environment that embraces diverse culture and identity, but has also built a family that sticks together.
LV sponsors Café con Leche (an opportunity for students to perform in ways that show appreciation for Latinx culture); Empanada Game night; various balls and celebrations that highlight the diversity of dance across Latin America; hosts discussions and lectures with prominent Latinx activists to highlight various social issues within Latin America as well as living experience for Latinx people within the U.S.; and hosts a meeting most Thursdays at the DMC. These meetings cover a wide array of topics all aligning with LV's mission to give a voice to Latinx students while enriching campus diversity.
La Vanguardia will celebrate its 35th anniversary on Oct. 5 to highlight the work of the organization over its lifetime. The celebration, which is sponsored by the Days-Massolo Center and La Vanguardia, includes an open community talk, a flavorful Latin cuisine luncheon, as well as an indoor block party. All are open to the community. RSVP to email@example.com.