Moving to the U.S. from Bolivia was an adventure for me. I was really looking forward to having the full American college experience (whatever that meant to me at the time) and was more than eager to start a new life in a new and exciting place. The one thing—besides my friends and family—I was sad to be leaving behind, was my Latinx community. Over in Bolivia, of course, I didn’t think of it as a Latinx community. In fact, it wasn’t until I came here that I realized that a lot of things intrinsic to me (not the least of them was language), were also an intrinsic part of Latinx culture. And so, I started to miss little things like greeting people with a kiss on the cheek or hearing a reggaeton song wherever I went (shout out to Blue Wall for playing reggaeton every once in a while).
The University of Massachusetts Amherst has a considerable Latinx community, and that was something that helped me stay connected with many aspects of my home. And now, thanks to the efforts of senior Luis Rodriguez, UMass Amherst has gone a step further: They are opening their first Latinx defined residential community called El Barrio (my neighborhood).
El Barrio, which will be located on the 21st and 22nd floors of the Washington tower in the Southwest residential area, was the brainchild of Rodriguez, a senior operation management major at UMass. During his junior year, Rodriguez was having a conversation with the residential director of the building he was an RA for, and told her how he wanted to “unite Latinx students on campus,” but that he didn’t know how to execute the idea. The residential director suggested that Rodriguez try to start what is known as a defined residential community (DRC) for Latinx students, and added that this exact concept had been attempted at UMass Amherst twice in the past with no success.
And so, with the idea in hand, Rodriguez approached Lisa Giddens, the director of residential life at UMass Amherst, with the hope of finding out how he could be the first one to succeed at creating the DRC.
“I really just wanted to find out if it was possible to make this DRC happen. Seeing that it had failed before, and to find out why it failed before, they told me what happened. Then, I began my journey to try and fix the mistakes of the previous people to try and bring it into fruition,” Rodriguez said.
Over the course of a year, Rodriguez worked tirelessly to see his idea come into fruition.
He partnered with six black and brown student associations on campus and got input about what they would like to see in a DRC to make sure that El Barrio would look like what students wanted to it to look like, as opposed to his own idea of it.
With those ideas in mind, he wrote a proposal and prepared a PowerPoint presentation, which he presented to the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS), Residential Life, and other organizations that wanted to be a part of the project. Eventually, El Barrio was given a green light.
After the project was approved, it was time to decide on a name. Since this was a project for the Latinx community, Rodriguez saw it fit that they chose the name. And so, a social media campaign was launched. Rodriguez received over 100 name submissions, which he narrowed down to about 32. Then, he launched daily polls on Instagram until a single victor emerged: El Barrio. The name, which is translated as “my neighborhood,” has an enormous cultural meaning to the Latinx community, but it can be controversial.
“To make sure that everything was okay with the name of Barrio I also asked some of my mentors who would let [the administration] know to see how they felt about that kind of name. And ultimately, the majority part of people loved it,” Rodriguez said.
“For the most part, everyone loved it and really loved how true it was to our community and our culture,” he added.
If you’re new to UMass and finding a Latinx community within the University is something that’s important to you, I highly encourage you to look into El Barrio. Not only is it a great place to find new friends and meet interesting people, but the DRC also collaborates with Latinx organizations on campus such as the Latinx Cultural Center and Latinos Unidos. You can apply to the DRC here.