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Campus Reaches Out With Fiesta

Stung by criticism from Latinos, Cal State Channel Islands celebrates Mexican Independence Day.

September 17, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Channel Islands knows a little something about independence.

Last fall, the college campus near Camarillo broke away from Cal State Northridge to become the first four-year public university in Ventura County. And Tuesday, the campus helped commemorate Mexican independence with a celebration featuring young mariachis and ballet folklorico dancers.

"We're independent, yet we depend on the community and we want to be part of the community," said education professor Kathleen Contreras, who was among dozens of teachers, students and administrators who turned out for the fiesta.

The event was among a handful of Mexican Independence Day celebrations held around the county in recent days.

From a fiesta in Ojai to a parade in downtown Oxnard, thousands turned out over the weekend to commemorate the events of Sept. 16, 1810, when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang his church bell urging the community to rise up and seek independence from Spanish rule.

Tuesday's celebration at Cal State Channel Islands helped fill a void this year brought by the cancellation of the annual Fiesta Patrias carnival and concert at Oxnard College. Construction at the Oxnard campus forced cancellation of the event, and organizers were unable to find an alternate site.

Javier Gomez, founder of the Inlakech Cultural Arts Center in Oxnard, said he was happy to supply his young dancers and musicians for the Cal State celebration.

"It's definitely great for us to be able to come to the university and share what our center is doing," said Gomez, who strummed a guitar to accompany his grade-school-age students during the hourlong performance. "And obviously, it's inspiring for these kids to be able to see that the university is not far from their community and that they will be welcome here."

The celebration came at a time when the university has been taking steps to promote cultural diversity after being hit by charges that it was not doing enough.

Latino leaders criticized university officials last fall for creating a campus whose students, faculty and top administrators were not reflective of Ventura County's surging Latino population, which now stands at 31%. Those leaders also charged that there weren't enough programs to help Latinos get into and graduate from college.

Marty de los Cobos, the university's director of community relations, said several steps have been taken to address those concerns, including the recent creation of a commission dedicated to finding ways to improve campus diversity.

The university used Tuesday's event to kick off its own Latino Heritage Month to run during the same time as the federal Hispanic Heritage Month, and will sponsor a series of cultural events over the next 30 days.

"It's critical that we be part of the community," De los Cobos said. "We keep saying we are part of the community, but we just want to be sure we are walking our talk."

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