For 53 years, the Latin American Student Union (LASU) has provided fellowship and solidarity for Binghamton University’s Latin student population.
Founded in 1969 when 10 University students with Puerto Rican roots initiated a split from the existing organization, Azabache (a word translated to “jet” that describes a hard, black mineral used in jewelry and ornamentation). At the time, Azabache was operating as a collaborative venture with Black students on campus. Desiring their own space where marginalized people of Latin American descent could come together, the breakup of Azabache led to the establishment of LASU and the Black Student Union.
LASU had activist leanings from the beginning, taking inspiration from the Young Lords, a national civil and human rights organization founded in Chicago in 1960.
The Young Lords Organization (or Young Lords Party) began as a neighborhood street crew, but reorganized itself into a grassroots political and social movement that spread to 30 cities. The group, active during the 1970s and ’80s, advocated for the empowerment of Hispanic and Latin people in the U.S. and autonomy for Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries.
Honoring those who came before
Brooklyn, N.Y., native Melanie Ibagon joined LASU as a first-year student.
“I wanted to be part of a community with other Latines on campus and connect with people from similar backgrounds and cultures,” Ibagon said. “And I supported the organization’s mission to honor its roots and stay politically active on campus.”
Ibagon, a third-year linguistics and music major, serves as the organization’s president, one of 13 executive board members. The group holds general meetings weekly and schedules events throughout the year. It also maintains collaborative alliances with other student organizations, including the Black Student Union, the Caribbean Student Association, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Asian Student Union and many others.
LASU sponsors several signature events throughout the academic year, beginning in the fall semester with Latin Heritage Month. Running Sept. 15 through Oct. 15., Latin Heritage Month was first acknowledged in 1988 when Hispanic Heritage Week (proclaimed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968) was expanded to a month-long format and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Its mid-September start honors the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, which liberated Mexico and other Central American countries from Spanish colonial rule.
In honor of Latin Heritage Month, LASU is hosting or co-hosting a variety of events throughout the month. Events are free, and all Binghamton University students are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Latin Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the breadth of Latin cultures and honor the work of those who came before. This year’s theme for Latin Heritage Month, La Rebelión — honoring the activism of the Young Lords — resonates powerfully for Ibagon and other members.
Gaining professional experience, while giving back to the community
Ibagon steers LASU with Elissa Morales, a third-year human development major from Westchester, N.Y. Morales joined the organization during the spring 2021 semester and presently serves as the vice president and oversees most of the organization’s events. Morales underscores the social and professional experiences that have marked her time in the organization.
“I joined LASU to connect with people who share my cultural background,” Morales said. “But, because Latin America is so large and diverse, it was also a tremendous opportunity to learn about other Latin cultures. Working with LASU is an opportunity to give back to my community, while serving in a leadership role has helped broaden my knowledge and gain professional skills and experience.”
LASU recruits new members through its presence at on-campus tabling events and word-of-mouth referrals. The organization is active on social media, and its Instagram account is the primary platform for public-facing communication efforts. The group also maintains robust internal communications, including virtual group chats and weekly meetings, that keep members apprised of activities, events and timely issues.
During the spring semester, LASU fills several internship positions. Interns work with various executive board members to learn about the different roles. The internship program frequently generates leadership and administrative appointments for the upcoming academic year.
Ibagon and Morales see the organization as continuously evolving while preserving the core mission — spotlighting social and political issues affecting Latin people in the U.S. and countries of origin. They articulate the group’s ongoing mission for political activism at a local level as they aspire to contribute to the global dialogue.
Ibagon emphasizes the open-door policy for LASU’s weekly general meetings.
“We welcome everyone who is interested in learning more about issues that affect the Latin community,” she said. “Members have an opportunity to voice their opinions and share their perspectives. We want to improve awareness of these issues and bring about a greater understanding with those outside of the Latin community.”
While programming for Latin Heritage Month is the group’s most comprehensive fall event, each year on the first Saturday of November, LASU hosts a banquet commemorating the organization’s inception, with live musical performances, food and awards. This year marks the 53rd time members have gathered to honor LASU’s founders and original mission.
For Ibagon, LASU not only provided a community of peers, but it also helped her find her voice.
“My time with LASU will always stay with me,” she said. “It gave me the courage and passion to not only speak up for myself, but to speak out against injustice anywhere.”
Connect with LASU on B-Engaged or learn about upcoming events, meetings and other happenings on Instagram @lasu_1969.