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A Home Away From Home

A Home Away From HomeDuring Latino Heritage Month, the Latino Center at Tufts will mark its 15th anniversary with a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.14.08] For Tufts' Latino student population, the question of "Where do I fit in?" can be a daunting one to answer.

"Most of these students were either raised in America, or have spent most of their lives here," says Rubén Salinas-Stern, director of Tufts' Latino Center. "Many don't know a lot about their own history and some don't feel comfortable with their Spanish."

Thanks to the hard work of Salinas-Stern and members of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), which has nearly 40 participants, the Latino Center, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, has become a "home away from home," according to Salinas-Stern.

"It's a small community, but it's a community that's strong, has some voice and some presence on campus" Salinas-Stern says. "Students use [the center] in different ways depending on their needs."

The focus of the center is to continue to build on the strength of the Latino community through educational and cultural activities, including the annual celebration of Latino Heritage Month each October. This year, the main event is a visit from Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American author of "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," a novel that takes a multi-generational look at the life of a Latino family.

Diaz will participate in a community-wide talk at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 in Pearson 104. The author will also be working with students in Associate Professor Christina Sharpe's multi-ethnic literature course and with the Latino Men's Group.

"Whether you're black or Latino, you're really the minority," Salinas-Stern says. "What does it mean to be a Latino on this campus, in your community, in your family-what are some of the issues and pressures that you face? We're going to focus on that."

Salinas-Stern adds, "Diaz talks about a lot of the issues that these students face-whether it's being an immigrant, having identity issues, to being the hard worker and the bright one in your community and how the community sees that. He deals with a lot of the same experiences that the students deal with."

Looking forward to the upcoming presidential election, Latino Heritage Month will also include a talk by Giovanna Negretti, executive director of Oiste, a Massachusetts Latino political organization.

"Negretti develops programs to help Latinos run for public office," Salinas-Stern says. "Latinos are up to 15 percent [of the U.S. population] now, and in many states, they may be the deciding vote."

While the number one goal of the Latino Center is to provide support for Latino students, Salinas- Stern says a big part of the center's focus is to educate the Tufts community and beyond.

"A lot of people think that we only serve our community, but really the bulk of the work that we do is open to everybody," Salinas-Stern says. "It's really important for our students to have a social life, not only with Latinos, but to have a social life that also validates their culture. It's important for anybody to be interested in what they're doing, but particularly people outside the community."

To learn more about upcoming Latino Heritage Month events, visit http://ase.tufts.edu/latinocenter/Heritage.html.

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.

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