Engaging nearly invisible but growing demographic

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Berkshire Community College's Latino American History Project began as a simple question: How do you engage an almost invisible, but growing demographic?

According to the Pew Research Center, the Latino population in Berkshire County grew by 102 percent from 2000 to 2011, making them the fastest-growing demographic. Many of them are students at BCC in Pittsfield, and the South County satellite campus in Great Barrington.

Karen Carreras-Hubbard, coordinator of Library Services at BCC, started the project and sought grant funding in early 2015. "It was apparent that our usual college-age demographic was changing," she noticed.

Coming from a Cuban background, she said she understood the struggles that higher education posed for immigrants who felt disenfranchised and overlooked in community and school affairs.

Carreras-Hubbard organized a series of events, including a recent poetry reading by inaugural poet Richard Blanco, which were arranged throughout the year to celebrate Latino Americans on the campuses and in the community as part of a American Library Association/ National Endowment for the Humanities project called, "Latino Americans: 500 Years of History." All of this was accomplished with the help of library director Richard Felver; the college's grant writer, Gina Stec; and Eleanore Velez, BCC's multicultural admissions counselor, among others.

The first event took place in September 2015 at the Pittsfield campus. It was a screening of "The New Latinosk," a segment of the PBS series, "Latino Americans: 500 Years of History." Other events included a panel discussion with international athletes on BCC's soccer team, the Falcons; book club meetings about the Julia Alvarez novel, "How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent;" a showing of the film "Peril and Promise," with guest lecturer Mariana Bolivar, professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; and a bus trip to New York City to visit El Museo Del Barrio, a contemporary Latino art museum.

Also part the grant was a BCC Oral History Project interview with an alumnus from Guatemala, Erwin Figueroa, who came to the college as part of a U.S. State Department program called "CASS" (Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships).

The last event to take place was Thursday's poetry reading and discussion by Blanco at the Boland Theatre on the Pittsfield campus. Blanco recited his poem "One Today" at President Obama's second inauguration in 2013, and is the author of poetry collections such as "Boston Strong" and "Looking for the Gulf Motel," as well as two memoirs.

Daniel Raftery is a student at Berkshire Community College and co-editor-in-chief of the "2016 Zine: A Berkshire Community College journal of literary and visual arts." You can read the publication online here, http://www.berkshirecc.edu/student-services-and-support/zine, or find copies at BCC campuses.


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