Student club creates space for Latinx students to express themselves and share their culture

When senior Pablo Rios-Cruz arrived at Earlham and saw that there was no club for those from a Spanish-speaking culture, he decided to start one of his own.

“My family is 3,000 miles away so I thought maybe I can have people who like the same food and music as me,” Rios-Cruz says.

The biochemistry major and Bonner Scholar began developing the club in spring 2019 with the help of then-senior Claudia Gonzalez. She and other students from Spanish-speaking cultures from her class said they wished the club had existed during their tenure. “They told me, ‘I know we’re graduating, but if you need anything, let us know,’” Rios-Cruz remembers.

The club was quickly recognized as official and given a budget, but they still needed a name for it.

“Pura Vida means pure life,” Rios-Cruz says. “Pura vida is that drive to have a pure life in every way. It’s like a sense of excitement when I hear it,” he continues. “That’s the sense we want people to have when they come in the door—‘I’m home.’”

When junior Diana Tobon joined Pura Vida in her first semester, Rios-Cruz saw her enthusiasm and motivation right away, and made her a co-convener of the club.

“For me, Pura Vida created a safe space,” says Tobon, a psychology major and Bonner Scholar at Earlham. “While in the meetings I feel happy and accepted by the members because I can express myself however I want,” she continues, “so I wanted to be a convener so I could maintain that space.”

Pura Vida’s mission includes creating a space for students from Spanish-speaking cultures to be themselves, to discuss the breadth of Latinx culture andvto share Latin American culture with other students. Belén Villarreal, associate professor of Spanish and Hispanic studies, is the faculty advisor for the club.

In their club meetings, Rios-Cruz says, “We like coming together for karaoke and movie nights, and talking in our own languages. There are people who speak Spanish in their house and so it feels weird coming here and speaking English all the time.

“Our meetings are about planning out events, and having discussions of what is going on with the Latinx community locally and globally,” Tobon explains. “We discuss how that impacts the Latinx community and us as students.”

To reach out to the broader community, the club has planned and hosted a panel called “Finding Latinx,” a lunch to share different Mexican foods, teaching traditional Latin American dances in an event called “Baila Conmigo,” and a celebration for Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

In the “Finding Latinx” panel, three students of different backgrounds spoke about their relationship with the term and identity “Latinx.” The students’ identities were at the intersection of Afrolatinx, Latin American and a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program. They shared their thoughts about identifying as Latinx or not based on their identities and life experiences.

“It was an opportunity for the community to hear different perspectives. On the census and stuff Latinx is boiled down to one box, but it’s so much more than that,” Rios-Cruz says.

“At Baila Conmigo, we taught bachata, salsa and merengue on the Heart,” Rios-Cruz says. “It was all laughs and having fun.”

Hopes for future programming include bringing in more guest speakers.

“Alfredo Zuniga and Angel Muños talked to us about their career paths as Latinxs,” Tobon says. Zuniga and Muños are professors of psychology. “They talked about how to navigate grad school.

“We hope to have our club members get inspired and ask questions about the process,” Rios-Cruz adds.

The group would like to add more events during Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and Spanish conversation hours where Spanish speakers of all levels can speak Spanish and have fun with board games and karaoke.

Pura Vida gave its members a deepened sense of community.

“Coming from a minority background, having this club meant having people around I could connect with,” Rios-Cruz says.

To prospective students, Tobon says, “This is a safe space for Latinx identities and those interested in the Latinx community to acknowledge and be aware of the different cultures and traditions. This is a club for you all to express yourself,” she continues, “and to feel more at home. We would love to have you all here and maintain that connection with your Latinx identity and learn more from it together.”

This story was written by Somer Eckert, Earlham Class of 2017.

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