On-campus Site Visit: Roberto Hernández Center
As part of learning about Latinx community and their writing practices, I visited the on-campus site, Roberto Hernández Center (RHC henceforth) as to see how much I can learn about the community. During my visit, I interviewed the interim director of the RHC, Mr. Alberto Maldonado, at UWM to know about a. the service learning opportunities that this center may offer, b. the opportunities/possibilities to connect the interested volunteers to local Latinx communities in Milwaukee area. The service learning projects that I primarily envisioned for this center to include, but not limited to after-school programs, proof-reading, adult EL programs, bilingual translation and such. In my interview, I intended to ask Mr. Maldonado about the graduate student involvement in their center, especially in terms of service learning opportunities as I believe graduate students if involved with the local Latinx community can elicit valuable insight regarding its rhetorics. As it turned out, my assumptions regarding the breadth and width of the programs the RHC has was mostly accurate. However, firstly, I want to shed some light on the history of the center since it was a major part of my learning, and next talk about my conversation with the interim director.
The very history of RHC underscores the necessity of community engagement and what it (community engagement) can do. By the way, I must acknowledge the kindness that Mr. Maldonado showed in lending me the DVD that was released last year on the 47th anniversary of RHC. This DVD was the source of the history that I am going to briefly talk about here. The first initiative to start a place for the Latinx community on UW-Milwaukee campus started in 1968. The RHC came into being as a result of persistent demands by Roberto Hernández with a group of fellow enthusiasts who wanted to create a space for Spanish speaking people on UW-Milwaukee campus. Roberto Hernandez involved the Latinx community in Milwaukee since there was only a handful of Latinx students at UWM. In the video, Dr. Ricardo Fernandez, the then director of Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute (SSOI), also describes the center as a result of “community push” since there were only 10 registered Latinx students.
I came to learn about the current state of affairs about RHC during my interview which was more like a chat with the Interim Director: Mr. Alberto Maldonado. The center is primarily for the undergraduate students. The RHC serves 750 Hispanic students currently registered in UWM. It grants funding for undergraduate student research. The center provides Latino students a place of their own on campus. It also lends books and available texts students may need. The center also helps students with McNair programs in terms of writing applications and other application materials. The center also had Leadership Programs which ran for 11 years and is currently discontinued for lack of funding.
The RHC also organizes programs to bring awareness regarding cultures and such. The enter organizes signature events like Spanish Heritage Month. According to Mr. Maldonado, last year, they did Mexican Fiesta where 30 students participated. The RHC is also involved in doing programs that bring social awareness. They do a signup process for the students. The participatory students as Mr. Maldonado pointed out, involve themselves “as a way to give back, and also as a way to celebrate their culture”.
During our conversation, I also learned that the RHC partnered with the UWM library last semester. The library instructions took place inside the center to raise awareness regarding how these sessions help bilingual students. The RHC is trying to bring in other services—as a way to make it one-stop center for Hispanic students. Especially these services cater to 1st generation students who have hard times navigating the system—as Mr. Maldonado emphasized.
As for community engagement, the interim director connected some UWM student organizations with Riverside High school students regrading translation during parent-teacher conferences, and tutoring help. The center also brings in bilingual families to campus especially during the summer for visits. They hosted an event this January with 300 students where the families asked questions they had about the campus and university.
Opportunities for UWM English graduate students:
As I learned from the director, the RHC is always open to volunteers. So, UWM English graduate students can volunteer with various grants the Latinx students apply to. For example, UWM graduate students can bolster the McNair application that RHC helps Latino students with. UWM English graduate students can also help undergraduate students who conduct research for the first time with various tips and tricks. Especially English 101 & 102 instructors can help with undergraduate capstone projects. Such involvements can also be rewarded with credits (1/2credits depending on hours) UWM English department will give to the engaged graduate students.
Also, to increase students outreach, English 101 and 102 (also EAP sections) instructors can ask their students visit RHC and ask them to write reflection pieces on their visit. This visit can happen in the form of Cultural Café when RHC has their Mexican Fiesta month. This will give students, both domestic and international exposure to a new culture that they may not be familiar with. Personally, my visit to RHC has opened a new door to me. The moment I walked in, I felt welcomed. I am not sure what it was but the smiles and positive vibes in the center made me, an international graduate student like myself feel home.