By Gabriel Jorge
Dhawilson and Magdelin Peña watched as students of different races filled the William Paterson coffee shop to listen to Latin-American writers recite their poetry.
“My sister and I wanted to join a club, but being so different from each other made it hard to find one that we both liked,” said Dhawilson, a senior majoring in criminal justice. “But then we realized that we did have one thing in common – our culture – and that’s when we got the idea.”
Hispanics, defined as people whose ancestors are from a Spanish-speaking land or culture, make up 23.3 percent of the student body at WPU, the second highest group after Whites at 46.9 percent, according to the university.
Although Hispanics comprise almost a quarter of students here, the Peña siblings did not feel like their point of view was well represented.
Along with their brother Yordin Peña, and their friend Ana Tobon, they received permission to restart WPU’s Organization of Latin-American Students, which had been dormant for almost three years.
Appointing Yordin as secretary and Tobon as the public relations chair of the organization, the Peña siblings set out to reintroduce their culture to the William Paterson community.
“They told us that almost 25 percent of William Paterson’s population is Latino, and it’s really hard to see, you know? You can’t really tell,” Dhawilson Peña said. What we’re trying to do is show the community how Latinos really are. We want to change their perspective. We want to make an impact.”
The Organization of Latin-American Students carries out its mission by hosting events like poetry readings where noted Latino poets recite their work, and community service events where members of the organization give back to other organizations and charities.
The organization also holds conferences where influential Latin public figures and artists speak to students about their experiences in the United States, as well as events where students are encouraged to mingle and learn about each other’s cultures by tasting food from Latin countries and watching traditional dances perform.
The Organization of Latin-American Students does not have an assigned space to meet yet, but announcements of meeting places and times are updated on the organization’s Instagram (@OLAS_WPU) and other William Paterson-affiliated social media.
The Organization of Latin-American Students meets at 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays.