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PRESIDENT KAROL V. MASON HOSTS A LATINX HERITAGE MONTH CELEBRATION

“At John Jay College we know that diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and a vital aspect of that diversity is rooted in our Latinx students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters. That’s why it’s important for our entire community to come together to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month.”

Understanding the importance of celebrating the rich and diverse experiences of our Latinx community, President Karol V. Mason hosted a Latinx Celebratory Reception on Thursday, September 26. The event started off with mingling and music amongst our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. Attendees at the event left hopeful messages on the “We Celebrate” banner, shared stories with each other, and enjoyed the light refreshments. Then Mason welcomed the group by saying, “Bienvenido a nuestra celebración de la herencia Latinx. Estamos aquí esta noche para celebrar, educar, defender, y mantener la solidaridad con la comunidad Latinx. And in English, welcome to our celebration of Latinx heritage. We’re here tonight to celebrate, to educate, to advocate, and to stand in solidarity with the Latinx community.”

She followed that up by saying that John Jay is a Hispanic-Serving Institution expressly because our Latinx students chose to make it one. “Our Latinx students need to see their history, their heritage, and their identity reflected in our curriculum, programming, and faculty,” said Mason. “They need to know that their experiences build upon the many vital contributions from our Latinx community.” She also thanked the many Latinx faculty and staff members that help our students succeed in their academic journey. “Julia Alvarez, the incredible Dominican-American writer who wrote How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, once said, ‘The point is not to pay back kindness, but to pass it on.’ Our Latinx faculty and staff are taking all the support and love they’ve received throughout their lives, and they’re intentionally passing it on to our students.”

 


Karol V. Mason

She then introduced one of our students, Pricilla Almonte ’21, to speak to the crowd. Almonte, a junior and a Criminal Justice major, told the audience that she plans to pursue a career working in the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. She explained to the audience that one of the reasons she chose John Jay College was because she didn’t want her parents to go into debt paying for her education. “They offered to pay my tuition, but who would I be if I let them pay that debt for the rest of their lives, when they were already trying to pay off my sister’s college debt?” she said. “I didn’t want that for them or myself.” Almonte also discussed why celebrating Latinx Heritage Month was so important to her. “I am Dominican and Puerto Rican, and my culture is a huge factor in why I chose to attend John Jay College. We currently have a student body that is 46 percent Latinx. Why? Because we feel safe here. We can be ourselves here,” said Almonte. “Latinx Heritage Month reminds me of the richness of my Dominican and Puerto Rican roots, and teaches me to appreciate the richness of other Latin American cultures. Being able to celebrate your culture’s achievements is what this month is about, and it’s why we celebrate it every day.”

Lissette Delgado-Cruzata, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology in the Department of Sciences, took to the lectern to explain the vast spectrum of ancestry within the Latinx community—such as Aztec, Incan, West African, East African, Northern African, or European ancestry—and to note that we were there to embrace that rich diversity. “We celebrate the mix that we are—the mix of cultures, the mix of traditions, the mix of physical features, skin colors, and hair textures,” said Delgado-Cruzata. “We are mestizo. We are white. We are black. And still, we are all Latinx.” She followed that by explaining how important it was to support our Latinx students. Delgado-Cruzata said that John Jay Latinx students have given our community an incredible opportunity to connect with them and to listen to their experiences and understand what it means to be Latinx.

Mason was very excited to introduce a proud John Jay and SEEK alumnus, Marcos Crespo ’03, Bronx Assemblyman and Chair of the Labor Committee. “Marcos has been a champion of the Latinx community and immigrant rights. He’s spearheaded relief projects and aid in the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico,” said Mason. “He’s a strong advocate for greater diversity and Latinx representation in government, education, and cultural institutions. His leadership as former chairman of SOMOS was invaluable to our community. And, his continued support of our John Jay and CUNY students is commendable.”

 With a hug from Mason, Crespo addressed the audience by explaining that he was born in Puerto Rico; his mother was from Puerto Rico; his father was from Lima, Peru; his stepmother was from Cali, Colombia; his “first love” was from Mexico; and his wife and mother of his children was from the Dominican Republic. “So, what I am is a confused Latinx,” Crespo said to the delight of the crowd. “I’m going to write a book on that if I ever become an academic.”

He went on to explain that he understood the immigrant story through his family’s experience. His father came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant hiding in the storage room of a shipping vessel. For Crespo, coming to John Jay was the gateway to a completely different world. Just applying to college was a bit of a mystery for him. He had to ask the student sitting next to him the names of some colleges to apply to—luckily, John Jay was on the list. “I got a letter not only saying that I got into John Jay, but I got accepted into the SEEK program,” said Crespo. “So, I would get my tuition paid and a stipend. I felt rich.” At the time, his father was a painter and Crespo just assumed he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps. “But, while I was at John Jay, I realized that there was a whole world out there, separate from everything I knew in the neighborhood.” He ended up interning and working with Bronx-based elected officials Rubén Díaz Jr. and his father the Rev. Rubén Díaz Sr. “Then, there was an opportunity to run for the Assembly, and I took it,” said Crespo. “Now, it’s been 10 years that I’ve been in office. I don’t know how long I’ll be an elected official, but I want to know that while I was one, I helped a bunch of other folks—directly or indirectly—to have the opportunity to achieve what I had, or a whole lot more.”

Mason ended the evening by explaining how fortunate our community was to have Crespo in the John Jay family. “Diversity means you’re in the room. Inclusion means your voice is being heard. And equity is, you’re running the table,” said Mason. “We’ve got equity in the leadership of Assemblyman Crespo.”

 

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