Instructor in Spanish Allen Discusses Latino Students

Leading the last Brace Center Faculty Fellow presentation of the year, Instructor in Spanish and Advisor to African-American and Latino Students Jorge Allen addressed the issues raised by the 2000 Richard T. Greener Study on the experiences of African-American and Latino students at Phillips Academy. In his lecture Tuesday night entitled, “Ni de Aqui ni de Alla: The Latino/ Latina Experience at Phillips Academy Andover,” Mr. Allen spoke on the history of Latino/Latina students at the Academy, the needs of these students, the challenges they face, and the duality many of them experience. Mr. Allen began his lecture by stating that he had intentionally used Spanish in the title of his presentation. The phrase “ni de aqui ni de alla,” meaning, “neither from here nor there,” comes from a movie he viewed as a college student in Mexico. The film deals with the issue of so-called “wetbacks,” a pejorative term used for Mexicans who illegally cross the U.S. border. Mr. Allen said that the movie left a lasting impression on him and led him to the conclusion that when one crosses a border, one is no longer the same person; even if one goes back, the experience of being exposed to a new culture makes a lasting and visible impact. Mr. Allen went on to say that he sees himself as “just a vessel” trying to bring out the voices of the PA Latino community. He addressed the question of what being Latino means, stating that the word “Latino” does not imply a race and is “at best, an ethnicity.” He added that the group labeled as Latino is comprised of a conglomerate of many races. According to Mr. Allen, of the 6.8 million Americans who designate themselves as biracial, 33 percent are Hispanic, though Hispanics number only 14 percent of the overall population. Noting that the makeup of Latinos is in a constant state of flux and is hard to define, he said, “Being Latino is an experience, a culture.” Mr. Allen stated that he sees the overall Latino experience at Andover as “successful.” Latinos, he said, have the same level of success as their peers, however they lack a “venue to address their culture.” He added that while the Andover campus is very diverse, the general student body lacks a good awareness of Latino issues and the value of Latino culture. In an attempt to put the current situation of Latino students at PA in perspective, Mr. Allen traced the group’s history at the school. Mr. Allen pointed out that Phillips Academy was one of the initiators of the “A Better Chance” (ABC) program, founded in 1963 to raise the numbers of well-educated minority students. The Academy successfully recruited such students, and throughout the 1970’s a handful of Latino and African-American students were present in the student body. In 1973, the African-American Society, which had been founded in 1968, became the African American-Latino (Af-Lat-Am) Society. Though the school did not keep records of the number of Latino students until 1989, Mr. Allen was able to trace members of the Latino community at PA through old Phillipian articles pertaining to the newly formed AfLatAm. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the club was known for hosting the best dances on campus, prompting one of the society’s presidents to declare it was “more than just a disco.” According to Mr. Allen, around this time, students such as Ricardo Dobles ’85 began to discuss splitting from AfLatAm and creating a separate organization solely for Latino students, arguing that AfLatAm emphasized only the African-American experience. As part of the Greener Study, alumni and alumnae of Latino origin were asked about their experiences at Andover. Many noted a “duality” and loss of connection with their home communities and cultural backgrounds during their Andover years. Mr. Allen said this sentiment is still expressed by students today. He emphasized the need for Latino students and others to explore their identities and cultural heritages, questioning whether Andover provides sufficient opportunities for this to occur. In response to these sentiments expressed by Latino students, Mr. Allen argued that the Academy “should allow kids more time to discover themselves.” He cited programs he had initiated, such as a book club for Latino students and a pen pal program with students from Lawrence, as examples of such opportunities. “How do we formulate something that will not exclude their peers, but [at the same time] allow students to pursue their own interest?” Mr. Allen asked. According to Mr. Allen, although being a member in Andover’s diverse community broadens students’ world views, many non-Latinos also feel disconnected from their communities at home. This sentiment was echoed in a comment made by Itiah Thomas ’03, who said that she too has this sense of “dual identity,” something she appreciates, but often questions. Several faculty members also pointed out that “race is only part of this duality,” noting that many students realize that after attending the Academy, they find they have little in common with their friends from home.