Latinx Alumni Group Reflects on, Celebrates Hispanic Heritage MonthBy Bowdoin
Over the past year, a group of dedicated alumni have developed ABLA to "connect alumni and inspire the future," supporting Latinx alumni and students and being in regular conversation with one another. They chose the acronym ABLA to play on the Spanish word hablar, to speak.
Gonzalez and Rubi describe the month as a chance for both celebration and reflection, a time to "honor the rich tapestry of Latinx culture, history, and contributions to society."
For their part, Gonzalez and Runi recently spoke with ABLA's vice president Jimena Escudero ’13, community committee chair Edgardo Sepulveda ’15, and ABLA head of operations Laura Ibáñez ’17 about what their Latinx heritage means to them, what they're currently working on, and why they got involved with the initiative. Below are their transcribed exchanges.
What does Latinx heritage mean to you?
Escudero: Celebration, inclusivity, diversity. Being Latinx isn’t any one thing. Taking the time during Hispanic Heritage Month to pause and reflect on how being Latinx has shaped my experience is important. I did not grow up particularly attached to my heritage and for so long, fitting in was the priority [for me]. Now is the time that I’ve turned towards it. I’ve found that I must seek out the community I want to be a part of, and luckily, that that community can be found anywhere.
Sepulveda: To me, Latinx heritage represents an unapologetic pride in our roots, a deep love for our customs and language, and a constant drive to bring our culture to the forefront despite societal attempts at stifling it. It’s a reminder of my mother island, where life and love are prioritized and celebrated, where the benefit of the community is at the core of all our interactions, and where passion and perseverance are shared attributes amongst everyone. It’s such a collective cultural experience that even though each country in Latin America is different, we can all easily find a home amongst each other through our food, music, and dances. Latinx heritage truly is just all these eclectic social and cultural factors from the Dominican Republic and my family that have shaped who I am as a person and how I interact with the world that I can never truly just assign it one meaning.
Ibáñez: Heritage is all about traditions and the little pieces of our personalities that get passed down from those around us. For me, celebrating my Latinx heritage means continuing to cook the recipes my grandmother taught me, even though they have never been written down. Heritage means recognizing the moments when my thoughts and actions originate from my Latinx roots, such as superstitions and embracing them wholeheartedly as part of who I am. It also means upholding those traditions and living with the values of family and community.
Tell us a bit about what brings you joy and what projects you’re currently working on.
Escudero: My biggest project right now...is my son. He has just turned one and watching him develop and seeing how he connects to his ever-growing world is amazing. Through him I’ve had to examine how I connect to my own Latino-ness, and I want to ensure that he has a strong connection to his roots and is able to understand his own story as a multicultural individual. I want him to know that his history is something to be proud of, and that he has an appreciation for the multitude of Latinx narratives around us.
Sepulveda: Being able to socialize and meet new people truly does bring me joy—especially after the pandemic. There is just something about having the chance to connect with someone and hear their life story or what they do for work or even their personal passions that gives me energy and makes me happy. Synonymous to a good book, I find being able to just learn about someone new gives you a chance to step into a different world other than your own and briefly experience something new from their perspective, or even find connection where you least expect it.
Ibáñez: If I was not a doctor, I would have been a librarian and spent my days reading books all day long. This is one of the reasons I worked at Special Collections all four years while at Bowdoin; the books and the air conditioning. Outside of reading, I love to hike and explore nature, bonus points if I can bring my dogs.
I am a resident physician in internal medicine, so learning and practicing medicine takes up most of my time. I love being able to care for my patients and their families, especially when I can do so in Spanish. I recognize the relief and faith Latinx families have in a doctor that can understand them, including the cultural and familial nuances that are so integral to their health. My patients motivate me everyday though their stories of struggle, perseverence, laughter and love; they guide me to keep rooted in the humanity of medicine.
Why did you decide to get involved with ABLA?
Escudero: Bowdoin gave me so much, I wanted to find a way to reconnect and give it my time and attention. I move every couple of years, and I’m happy to have found a role that can move with me, providing me both continuity of purpose and a strong network. As ABLA is just in its infancy, I’m appreciative of finding a role where I can help guide and shape it to something young alumni can benefit from as they move beyond Bowdoin, and a way for older alumni to reconnect to the College.
Sepulveda: One common theme I’ve always noticed over the years with the Bowdoin Latinx experience was this yearning for some sort of accessible connection between Latinx/POC students and Latinx/POC alumni. There was always a multitude of ways students could reach out to alumni and alumni could set themselves up as a resource for the school, of course, but for the most part these pathways were oriented toward career advice and stopped short of anything related to identity. There usually had to be a POC-oriented milestone event hosted at the school for these two groups to ever interact; and even then, these token moments would be fleeting as the community aspect never followed. ABLA—alongside Bowdoin Alumni RepresentASIAN and Bowdoin College Black Alumni Association—presented the opportunity to finally fill that void for the Bowdoin people of color community. I remember being incredibly excited to hear that the College wanted to step up and address this missing link, and it was an easy decision to join the steering committee, given the shared passion of everyone who first started attending meetings. I'm really excited to be part of an initiative that ultimately will lead to a future where being Latinx doesn’t feel like an add-on identity to being a Bowdoin student or alum, but rather it being an inherent part of that college pride.
Ibáñez: I decided to get involved with ABLA to maintain a connection to Bowdoin and to support Latinx students through challenges they may face. Community is important to me, and finding one after Bowdoin has been hard, especially through the isolation we experienced during the pandemic. I hope ABLA brings together Latinx alumni through community, so that we better support one another. Lastly, I wanted to be a resource for current Latinx students and give them additional support with the understanding of many shared experiences, such as being immigrants or first-generation graduates.
"As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month,we remember that each of our stories is unique, but all are woven into the larger narrative of Latinx history. Our shared heritage goes beyond a single month; it’s a part of our identity that we carry with us every day. It’s also a reminder of our responsibility to support all generations of Latinx communities." — Ariele Gonzalez ’08 and Perla Rubi ’17
Homecoming reception: ALBA is inviting alumni to a reception on Saturday, October 14, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. in Main Lounge. Register here.
Join ABLA: For those interested in becoming part of the conversation and community, please click here to join a committee.