Creating culturally inclusive spaces is how minority youth thrive and reach their potentials. Latino Nation is a student-led club at Verona Area High School that has taken the initiative to create their own success stories, one student at a time. The group will hold a fundraising car wash on Sunday, June 3 at 2510 West Beltline Highway in Madison at Rosen Nissan from 10 am until 3 pm.
“Latino Nation gave me a voice, it gave me an option,” said student Rafael Angel-Perez.
The club started three years ago with ten students and their adviser, Frank Rodriguez, who wanted to create a space where young Latino students could simply belong. The initiative quickly evolved into much more than that.
“It keeps them engaged so they can understand where they come from and understand that academics are important…It’s all for excellence,” said Rodriguez.
Verona High School had an abundance of unrepresented students and Frank Rodriguez, who used to work at West High School, noticed this. He made the jump to support Verona students and they’ve been growing ever since. Since the club started, more than 80 students have become involved.
The club frequently goes on field trips, hosts study sessions and learns about their heritage by bringing in Latino business owners, public speakers and more to tell their success stories and help the students reclaim their own narratives.
Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us, recently met with the students and donated 87 copies of her book to the club.
“Students were able to read that book and had the opportunity to correlate their relationship and their stories about a family who had to cross the borders of Mexico to come for the American dream. This is what Latino Nation’s about, giving these students the opportunity to realize that the American dream still exists,” said Rodriguez.
In their most recent field trip, they went to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, where more than 60 students were able to learn more about their cultures and gain exposure outside of the classroom. They’re looking to add to the amount of cultures that they’re able to learn about.
“Latino Nation has helped provide a lot of educational field trips. We’ve been able to learn a lot about ourselves in those field trips and we’ve been able to expand our knowledge, make it a bit more vast on our culture and backgrounds, and why we should be empowered by it,” said Julio Mora, a student and member of Latino Nation.
“Just because you’re Latino doesn’t mean that you’re Mexican,” added Rodriguez. “The club is an umbrella of Latino students.”
Latino Nation doesn’t don the moniker for just any reason. The club involves a plethora of students from different countries including Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala, Honduras, and more. The all inclusive club also serves more than just Latino students, it’s open to all who want to learn about Latino heritage and language.
“We want to have students hear speakers [in order] to find people to relate to–doctors, lawyers. What it means to be a minority in a predominantly white town. Opening different avenues and having different role models they can relate to,” said Rodriguez. “Having students earn their high school degrees and beyond. Creating opportunities to network. We want to see every student be successful.”
The students are motivated by each other to do better and cultivate an atmosphere of hard work. The students give up their lunch hour twice a month on Wednesdays to meet. They’ve held multiple events, including their first annual “Latino Car Show” in Verona and even hosted a fundraising campaign called “Pies for Puerto Rico”, where about 500 students had the opportunity to throw pies in the face of their teachers for a dollar each and provide aid relief to the country. They’ve still been low on funds for fields trips, however, Rodriguez even paying out of pocket to see that the kids are able to attend the field trips.
When Rodriguez met Eric Zuniga, the marketing and brand ambassador at Rosen Nissan Madison and owner of Ipsum Digital Media LLC, they came up with their new idea: Latino Nation’s Car Wash Fundraiser.
The car wash is a collaboration between Latino Nation, Rosen Nissan of Madison, and Ipsum Digital Media LLC. The students will wash cars for customers while they all enjoy music from a DJ, food trucks from vendors, and have the opportunity to participate in a silent auction. Everyone who checks in will also be entered into a raffle. All proceeds for the event will fund field trips, bring in guest speakers, and more. The fundraiser will take place on Sunday, June 3 at 2510 West Beltline Highway in Madison at Rosen Nissan from 10am – 3pm.
“We’re giving back to community and trying to teach the community,” said Rodriguez. “These kids are out there. They do big things. They just need a chance.”