Campus holds second annual Family Day

By Courtney Pischke

Before sunrise on Sunday, two buses escorted nearly 400 Latino friends and relatives from the University of Illinois at Chicago to the Urbana-Champaign campus for second annual Latina/Latino Visit Family Day.

Meanwhile, groups of volunteers – comprised of students at the University, staff members and alumni – scurried around the Illini Union before the buses arrived. This was their chance to leave an encouraging impression on the parents and relatives of most of the freshmen Latino community.

On the north end of the Union, 50 tables adorned in white tablecloths and eight place settings waited for the guests to arrive. Free 5″x7″ family portraits were provided for the families that posed in front of the large marble background at the south end, courtesy of Bank One.

“Having already done this one year, today went a lot smoother,” said Cathy Acevedo, associate dean of students. “The food was amazing and everyone seemed to enjoy it.”

The day started with a general welcome from Kimberly Brown, director of Academic Assistance Program in LAS. An explanation of the admission application process, presentations from each of the university’s colleges and a question-and-answer session followed.

During the workshops and forums for the parents, Campus Recreation employees and volunteers accompanied the students’ siblings in activities, including ice skating, face-painting, making crafts and watching a movie. During lunch, the band, Sandunga, provided Afro-Caribbean music.

Sunday’s program was bilingual, allowing parents to understand the information in Spanish and English. When visiting Noyes Laboratory and the Natural History Building translators were available to make the parents feel more comfortable.

“The regular orientation in the summer isn’t feasible for parents who work full-time,” Acevedo said. “When the speakers would be talking in English, there was a (Spanish) PowerPoint presentation in the background for the parents to follow along.”

Freshman in LAS Antelmo Quintero said his parents were surprised at the level of safety at the University, especially at 3 a.m., when the streets of Chicago would be less than secure.

“At three in the morning in Chicago, you’re ducking behind cars and trees to stay out of trouble,” Quintero said. “Down here, my parents saw I’m totally safe walking by myself that late.”

For Quintero’s, he is the first in his family to attend college. Some live in Venezuela, Mexico and other Latin American countries and did not receive education past eighth grade.

“The Latinos that are here are the ones who chose a path that others did not want to take,” said Luis Martinez, junior in LAS .

Because of the lack of graffiti and the absence of gang-like behavior, Martinez said his parents were impressed during their University visit.

“Your parents just can’t relate unless they actually come here and see it for themselves,” said junior in LAS Jaime Olmos.

Like Olmos’ family, many Latina and Latino parents work long hours to give their children an education and a future that they were not given.

“My dad worked really hard for me to go to school here,” said junior in business Esteban Magana. “If I didn’t do well in school, it’d be like a slap in his face.”

In addition to the campus information provided for parents, sponsor JP Morgan Chase presented exhibiting student loan and financial investment information, and Bank One included brochures in the informational packets handed out to each family at the beginning of the day.

Another participating organization, La Casa Cultural Latina, presented services for their members to reconnect to their cultural roots that might have been lost when transferring from high school to college.

“We always send out mass e-mails and post activities on el boletin to try to motivate people to become involved,” said Raqo Roman, La Casa programmer. El boletin, Spanish for the bulletin, is on La Casa’s Web site and lists several of the upcoming La Casa events and Latina/o organizations on campus.

“Word of mouth is key for such a small community like ours,” Roman said.