Families taste slice of University

Abel Montoya of the Office of Admissions and Records, left, speaks to Natali Marquez-Ponce, center, freshman in LAS, and her parents, Maria Ponce and Leobardo Ocampo, at the Latino/a Family Visit Day activities in the Illini Union in Urbana on Sunday morn Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini

Abel Montoya of the Office of Admissions and Records, left, speaks to Natali Marquez-Ponce, center, freshman in LAS, and her parents, Maria Ponce and Leobardo Ocampo, at the Latino/a Family Visit Day activities in the Illini Union in Urbana on Sunday morn Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini

By Teresa Sewell

Six of Michelle Chavez’s cousins crowded around her in the Illini Union Sunday morning, smiling and excited about going ice skating later.

Although Chavez, freshman in LAS, said her transition to college was smoother than she imagined, she was happy that her family came to celebrate the fourth annual “Latina/o Family Visit Day.”

Chavez said her family is very close knit – a cultural value instilled in many Latino families – so having them come down for a day to gain understanding of the University makes it easier for her explain why she can’t come home as much as they would like.

“It will be really cool because we now get to spend time with her,” said Chavez’s 11-year-old niece, Priscilla Puruncajas. “And it’ll be for a whole day.”

Besides spending time with the family, the day serves as a way for Latino families to become connected to the University and more involved in their student’s academic life, said event committee members.

The program invites freshmen Latino students and their families for a day of activities to entertain the children, and provides informational sessions for parents.

Since the graduation rate for Latino students is lower than the goal administrators have set, they hope the day creates a support network by encouraging students to complete their degrees at the University.

“Families get to come down and see that their freshman is doing well,” said Rocio Rodriguez, a volunteer and junior in Business. “They feel more secure and assured that there is support and many programs for the Latinos on campus.”

The lack of getting basic information due to language barriers can also be hard for some Latino parents, said Cathy Acevedo, associate dean of students.

“They get to ask their questions and can get them answered in Spanish for the first time,” she said.

Acevedo heard some students previously say that parents weren’t going to let them come back after their freshman year before coming to the program. The day is scheduled on Sunday so working parents can come.

“It’s a great opportunity to get to know my daughter’s friends on campus and just to spend the day together,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., while hugging his daughter Jessica. “We miss her.”

Soraida Gutierrez, his wife, said she wishes there was a day like this when she was in college.

“It gives you the idea that you are not alone and that there’s other people like you who make you feel comfortable,” she said.

Jessica Gutierrez, freshman in LAS, agreed.

“It shows that just because there’s not a large population of us on campus, we’re not going to fail,” she said.

Betoel Escobar, assistant director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs, said the program shows the good that can happen when organizations across campus work together.

Many parents now feel better about their children coming to college after learning more about financial aid packets and why some students, who once served as translators for their parents, chose to leave home and come to the University, Escobar said.

“The idea of the parents getting this feel that the University is thinking about them in that way, we think is very important,” he said with a smile.

Alejandro Lugo, associate professor of Anthropology and Latina/Latino Studies, said he was pleased to speak during the welcoming address Sunday.

“It’s a rare opportunity for Latino parents to be on this campus and that in itself makes the day special,” he said. “Parents get to see a little bit of what their children are going to go through.”

He said that there is a lack of information on Latino culture that causes misunderstanding of the role that Latinos play in American society.

Sometimes as a result, Latinos are treated as foreigners or non-Americans.

“It’s important to help Latino parents see that in spite of these obstacles, there are many of us here on campus involved in a very sincere effort to incorporate their children, culture and history into higher education,” Lugo said.