The trend of alienation of Latin American students—including startling figures in the US from as recently as 2010—across Canada and the United States led to the formation of the Organization of Latin American Students at U of T. Branching out to all three campuses, OLAS is working on improving students’ views of Latin American students.
OLAS members feel they never made a conscious decision to start the organization; the group sprang up over time. “The different branches of OLAS sprouted as the need and desire to represent Latin American cultures on different campuses became apparent,” said OLAS member Fernando Monge-Loria in an interview. “We’re a diverse organization and our origins lie in diverse roots.”
The organization also looks at Toronto-wide issues. “OLAS has always had a focus on education in the Latin American community, as the education system here in Toronto has historically pushed out Latin American students at disproportionately high rates,” said Monge-Loria. They have also been closely involved with the Latin American Education Network, a Toronto-based group that raises awareness of educational barriers to the Latin community.
“Reactions to OLAS have been overwhelmingly positive,” said Monge-Loria, citing their social events around campus as an example, which usually draw crowds. “Although at times it has been difficult to distance ourselves from the stereotypes that surround Latin Americans in North American culture. […] There hasn’t always been the same kinds of attention for some of our more discussion-focused events due to the pervasive idea that reduces Latin American culture to salsa and soccer.”
Among the organization’s annual and regular events is an Undergraduate Research Day they will be co-hosting with the LAS program to present their research on Latin America to professors and peers. Monge-Loria hopes the event will produce wider academic discussion on Latin America at the St. George campus. OLAS’s other activities include an open mic night and a Valentine’s Day event.
Monge-Loria says the future of OLAS relies on growth and consolidation. “We will continue to work at creating links with groups throughout the GTA that share our vision of promoting and celebrating Latin America and its diverse inhabitants […] There’s something in OLAS for anyone with an open mind and a desire to get to know Latin America and Latin Americans,” he concluded.
Correction: This article was originally titled “…at UTM” and mistakenly associated the interviewee with the UTM branch rather than the St. George branch.