Both members of MEChA and La Unidad joined Eliana Ortega for a private and intimate discussion focusing on the past and future of their organizations at Mount Holyoke and the political climate leading into the election.
BY SARAH LOFSTROM '19
On Oct. 13, Eliana Ortega ’67, former Spanish professor and co-founder of La Unidad, returned to the very house that was named after her to have an informal and intimate discussion with current members of La Unidad and MEChA. Her first order of business was a warm welcome to each individual who attended in the form of hugs and kisses. She then asked everyone shared their name, pro- noun, major and heritage. Ortega herself hails from Santiago, Chile where she now teaches American Literature at a Jesuit university that attracts lower income students, a job she finds both rewarding and very challenging as she has to “start from scratch” with many of the students.
This was Ortega’s first time visiting Mount Holyoke in 10 years. She was accompanied by her close friend and former colleague Professor Emeritus Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez, who also taught Spanish at Mount Holyoke. The two engaged in a lively discussion with students regard- ing myriad issues, including their respective histories at Mount Holyoke, the present and future of La Unidad and MEChA, Latinx literature, the current election and political climate as well as administration and professor relationships within Latinx studies.
Ortega emphasized the importance of unity and togetherness, encouraging her students to remain “together, never alone” both in day-to-day life and in making their voices heard as a cultural group. She also shared her belief that MEChA and La Unidad must work together and help one another because “we don’t need divisions.”
As an English major and author herself, Ortega was especially interested in what Latinx authors her students were currently reading and interested in. Ortega’s next project is to create a history of La Unidad, in order to preserve its memory and create a permanent document outlining its importance as a campus cultural organization. She mentioned that before the Ortega House, the group had met in the basement of Wilder. It flooded frequently, so they were allocated a small house on Morgan St. before finally being given the Ortega House in 1996.
A large part of the discussion centered around the current administration’s relationship with La Unidad and MEChA and the controversial topic of tenured versus adjunct professors, particularly relevant to the few Latinx professors. Latinx students are frustrated with the impermanence of Latinx professors’ contracts, which often are on a year by year basis.
Ana Karolina Sousa, ’19 co-chair of La Unidad, said, “You never get to really know your professor.” In addition, the topic of cultural diversity and Latinx awareness on campus was addressed. Mariana Jaramillo ’20 expressed her feeling that “we talk a lot about difficult subjects on this campus, but all we do is talk.” She and others present voiced their desire for greater awareness of Latinx issues on campus.
Ortega also shared her opinions on the current election, saying, “This election is so important, it will affect the whole world.” Sandoval-Sánchez agreed that “we need to have more dialogue about elections.” The discussion wrapped up with Ortega and Sandoval-Sanchez taking group pictures with the members of La Unidad and MEChA, who were all thrilled to have such beloved returning members of the MHC Latinx community with them in a place they all call home.