The Hispanic Roundtable is excited to celebrate the Latinx Youth Summit in person with high school students, parents, and educators across Thurston, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Grays Harbor Counties.
“We Are Seeds,” the theme of the Latinx Youth Summit, comes from a Mexican proverb: “They wanted to bury us, but they forgot that we are seeds.”
It’s an apt approach to this year’s event, says Diana Torres Angulo, president of Hispanic Roundtable, which founded and runs the event. She notes that students are experiencing high levels of stress and uncertainty due to the pandemic, which has severely affected communities of color, including the local Latinx community.
“Regardless of the feeling of overwhelm,” she says, the organization wants students to know that “they have the ability to overcome these barriers and that there are resources and tools and…this network of teachers, mentors, advisors, and community members that is willing to help them” move into their futures with information and with confidence.
The college and career event, which will take place on November 22, has drawn as many as 500 Latinx high school students across five counties and rotates among higher learning institutions in the region. This year, it’s at The Evergreen State College. This is the first time the summit has been held in person since 2019.
Students, who sign up through their high schools and attend for free, enjoy workshops that can boost confidence in their dual language abilities, for instance, or teach them how to apply and pay for college. Much of the content is designed to equip aspiring first-generation college students.
The Community Foundation has supported the Latinx Youth Summit for several years.
“The foundation is proud to continue supporting the Latinx Youth Summit,” says Mary Lam, the foundation’s philanthropy and communication officer. “We believe in our local young people, and that an investment in this event is an investment in the bright futures of Latinx students and our community’s future. We also recognize that historic and system inequities have previously undermined the social and economic well-being of Latinx families. As a Latina, having the opportunity to support this work is also personally exciting!”
Why is the Latinx youth summit important?
Torres Angulo says the youth summit is important because Latinx students earn higher education degrees at a lower rate than other populations. According to a 2021 USA Today report, “only 22% of Hispanics over the age of 25 have an associate’s degree or higher compared to 40% of the general population.”
Though the percentage of Latinx students attending college was on the rise, the numbers fell when the pandemic hit. Excelencia in Education data shows that “Hispanic student college enrollment had been growing at an accelerated pace for more than 20 years, but in 2020 dropped significantly despite previous projections of continued growth.”
In response to these figures, Torres Angulo asks, “How do we build this bridge between high school and college?” The summit’s answer is to help Latinx high schoolers envision themselves as college students and as future community members with bright, exciting careers. Holding the event at local colleges helps students do just that, opening their eyes to new possibilities.
Thinking about Latinx youth and their current experiences prompts Torres Angulo to reflect on her own. As a child of Spanish-speaking farmworkers, she acted as the family interpreter of legal documents, medical advice, and more.
She describes this role as that of “a ‘dual cultural interpreter.’ You learn at a very young age how to communicate across cultures in order for people to understand each other. It wasn’t just about the language. It was about cultures as well.”
Summit workshops address information barriers and debunk persistent myths, such as the mistaken belief that a student must be documented to go to college. But they also celebrate the unique skills and experiences of Latinx youth and help boost students’ self-perception by encouraging them to view their language and cultural skills in a positive light.
Rooted in community support
Encouraging and equipping local youth have been central goals of the summit since the beginning. And they’re particularly—and personally—important to a former Hispanic Roundtable board member, Olivia Salazar de Breaux.
As a high school student, de Breaux attended a one-day leadership workshop for Hispanic youth presented by the Hispanic Women’s Network. The workshop changed her life trajectory, introducing her to important mentors and to exciting career possibilities, even though she was growing up in poverty and felt invisible at school.
“It introduced me to so many important Latina mentors that were all leaders,” she says. “There were state workers, there were doctors, there were lawyers, professors—these incredible women that totally changed the direction of my life.”
The Latinx Youth Summit, she says, is built on the same idea as the workshop she attended all those years ago: “This is a space made for you with culturally relevant resources and stories and mentors. And opportunities that maybe you didn’t think were for you, like school. I didn’t think college was ever going to be for me. But then I met these women and [heard] their stories…and I heard how they were fighting their way to where they are today—and they’re very successful.”
De Breaux is, too. She currently serves as the equity, inclusion, and belonging specialist for the City of Olympia’s Parks, Arts, and Recreation department. She is also an entrepreneur, the co-founder of a local nonprofit, and an author.
Through the youth summit, she wants Latinx kids today (including her son, who’s now a participant) to know they can achieve their dreams and make a difference in their communities.
Improving the local Latinx experience
The summit is a natural extension of the Hispanic Roundtable’s work. The nonprofit, which was founded in 2002, works to improve access to community resources, services, economic development, education, and employment for Latinx people in the South Sound community.
In addition to the youth summit, the group is a resource where community members can find programs in the region that provide services in Spanish. They have also explored barriers connected to interpretation services for Spanish-speaking people in our area, especially as they relate to accessing essential services.
Their work spans five counties: Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Pacific, and Grays Harbor. The group is expanding its work and is always looking to connect with interested community members.