Several weeks shy of graduation, Columbia University Latinx students have joined forces to change the name of “Raza Grad,” the ceremony celebrating students of Latin American descent.
Four students recently launched a petition demanding the Office of Multicultural Affairs consider a more inclusive name for the cultural celebration. With over 250 signatures and support from students and student-led organizations like Student Organization of Latinxs, Alianza, Chicanx Caucus and Black Students Organization, the petitioners believe they’ll be able to get the name changed.
For Dafne Murillo López and fellow co-writers of the petition, all non-Mexican, the current name is not representative of the Latinx community. Instead, it’s rooted in the Chicano movement, centering Mexican and Mexican-American identity. They believe the term also erases indigenous and Black identity from the equation.
“The name Raza is racist and excludes Latinx students from their ceremony,” reads the petition, which has been endorsed by alumni, underclassman and students from other institutions. “The whole purpose of the event is inclusion and the celebration of Latinx students’ achievements. We believe that the continuation of this racist and exclusionary name is in direct contradiction to that purpose.”
Though the term raza reflects one of pride for Mexicans, it holds a different meaning for others across Latin America. “To me in Peru, we don’t use raza in the same way Mexicans use raza,” says Murillo López, an economics and Latin American studies dual major, to HipLatina. “The Mexican and Chicano community use raza to mean mi gente, or my people. In Peru, that’s not what raza means. It does mean race. But it also has this connotation in Peru, there’s this expression to signal indignation, you say, ¡Qué tal raza!”
The 23-year-old, who was inspired to create the petition after seeing “Raza Grad” promoted on Facebook, notes that Latinxs from various backgrounds, including Mexican students, are working in tandem to change the narrative of what it means to be of Latin American lineage on campus.
The Ivy League’s Chicanx Caucus released a statement in support of the petition.
“The term Raza erases and excludes other Latinx identities, making this a racist anti-black term to use for the graduation ceremony,” the letter reads. “This is an example of Mexico-centrism and hegemony that perpetuates the marginalization of Black and Indigenous people. It is imperative we support this petition in response to the Mexican hegemony that still exists, as the letter states, to ‘brown wash the entire country of Mexico as a country of mestizaje.’”
On Monday, April 22, a town hall meeting will be held by Associate Dean of Multicultural Affairs Melinda Aquino, Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs and Community Outreach Ileana Casellas-Katz, the petition writers and graduating seniors to discuss the ceremony. Submissions for alternative names have been rolling in with 80% leaning toward Latinx Graduation.