The first members of LASO, as shown in the Purple Patcher.
Student performers bow following 2019’s Noche Latina, LASO’s annual event celebrating the Latinx culture through food, music and performances.
When Melisa Alves ’06 arrived at Holy Cross in 2002, she immediately realized there weren’t many Latinx students on campus. Fortunately, she quickly discovered the Latin American Student Organization (LASO).
“LASO provided a space for me to be with people who had a shared identity, where I could speak my native language and enjoy food I grew up with,” she says. “LASO was a piece of home on campus.”
The airways exploded in 1991 with the grainy video of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King. Shaken by what he had seen, Gonzalo S. Zeballos ’92 began searching for a way Latinx students at Holy Cross could make their voices heard about racial issues on and off campus. He approached Thomas Stokes, then assistant dean and director of multicultural affairs.
Stokes put Zeballos in touch with Loren Ferré Rangel ’92, who was seeking a way for Latinx students to explore their unique cultural heritage and offer educational, cultural and social events at Holy Cross. In her words, she wanted the organization “to celebrate diversity within the Holy Cross community, serving as a vehicle to share and contribute to a common and respectful narrative about who we are as people — a multiplicity of cultures and diverse heritages.”
“It was an interesting time,” Zeballos says. “For me, it was more a political entity; for Loren, more of a cultural entity. But we complemented each other.” Joined by Rafael Villavicencio ’92, they drafted a constitution, a collaboration that birthed LASO.
Still amplifying the voice of Latinx students and promoting their culture, LASO celebrated the 30th anniversary of that founding with an on-campus reunion weekend, April 8–10. A recognition brunch highlighted the weekend by honoring LASO trailblazers.
“I’m especially looking forward to the brunch,” says Alves, 30th anniversary vice chair. “We will honor retired dean Esther Levine, who was like a mom to me on campus. Many of us wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for her.” The group has established the Esther Levine Student Success Fund to honor her 35-year tenure at Holy Cross and in celebration of its 30th anniversary. They aim to raise $30,000 to support experiential learning opportunities for Latinx students.
“LASO hasn’t always had its history documented,” notes Alexander Bonano ’17, 30th anniversary chair. The goal for the anniversary celebration is to change that by highlighting the impact the group has had on the College community over three decades, as well as its individual impact on students and alumni. “The 30th anniversary will be the past connecting with the present to look toward the future,” Bonano says. “My dream is for LASO to continue to be groundbreaking, continue to be daring and continue to place an emphasis on mentorship and leadership development.”
“There was a need for this organization to exist and already a group of students demanding to be taken seriously,” Zeballos says. “We took the step to institutionalize it, but it really was the collective efforts of the entirety of the community.” LASO’s formal recognition by the College in 1992 gave Latinx students a voice with the administration. Collaborating closely with other multicultural institutions on campus, such as the Black Student Union (BSU), they addressed racist incidents they observed on campus, enjoining the College to recognize the problem. The result was change that has endured, including the administration addressing racial concerns as part of its orientation programs.
“My best memories are of the intense solidarity we had with the BSU to do something that mattered. The need was so unmet that we had to do it,” Zeballos says. “I’m incredibly proud LASO still exists, to know we created something that will endure. I’m excited to see the new young leaders coming out of it.”
In addition to impacting the College community, the organization affected its members, too.
“LASO cured my fear of public speaking, giving me the strength to speak out loud about issues I believed in,” Zeballos says. “It created a joy within me in being a rabble-rouser and a leader, triggering the desire to be active. I can draw a straight line from my activism in LASO to my choice of career.”
Zeballos, a lawyer who also holds master’s degrees in history and Latin American studies, is working to recover billions of dollars for victims of financier fraudster Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He continues his activism in his volunteer work, serving on the advisory board for Philips Academy’s Institute for Recruitment of Teachers.
“I became interested in joining LASO as I noticed how active the organization was,” Bonano notes. “Its members carried themselves as leaders on campus. In addition, identifying as Afro-Latino, I wanted to explore that unique identity and history within the community.”
Alves, who served three years on the LASO executive board (e-board), credits that time with developing her leadership skills, such as managing teams, effective communication, and program and event planning. After graduation, she worked on campus and served as LASO’s adviser for seven years. “I stay engaged because of those relationships,” she adds.
“Melisa was my staff adviser when I served on the e-board,” Bonano says, “and beyond skills, it taught me the power of mentorship. It’s beautiful to see how the mentoring keeps going. I like to call it the bloodline. It’s not enough to be a leader. Are you mentoring people, creating pathways for others?”
Ferré Rangel has continued to serve as a mentor for Holy Cross students by enabling internships and shadowing programs for students in her business operations. More recently, she and her sister, María Eugenia Ferré Rangel ’89, keynoted the College’s student-run 2018 Women in Business Conference, talking about entrepreneurship and resilience after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico in 2017.
Editor’s note: This issue went to press before the LASO 30th anniversary weekend. Look for coverage of the celebration in the summer 2022 issue.
Written by Carol Cool for the Spring 2022 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.
Comments are closed.