Creating ‘una familia’ on campus: OLAS offers camaraderie for ethnic group

First in a series of profiles on GW student organizations.

The Organization for Latino American Students: a place where everybody knows your name. At least that’s how the members describe their group.

“We are not just a student organization, we are a family,” said OLAS president Priscilla Monico, a senior. “And that sense of family has been the backbone of my life as a GW student for the last four years.”

The mission of OLAS is to unite the Latino community and create awareness of the Latino culture through political, educational, community service and social events.

“I think that being at GW, where Latinos are a minority, OLAS serves as an outlet where we can share this common love and admiration for our language and culture with others,” said Marisha Peña, a senior and OLAS member.

Originally founded 11 years ago as Latinos for Progress, OLAS has since acquired a membership of about 45 students, mostly undergraduate.

“OLAS has grown over the past decade as a niche cultural group for a then fledgling Latino community at GW into a mainstream, successful cultural community seeking to engage all GW students,” explained Deborah Snelgrove, the faculty adviser for the group.

Snelgrove, who is the chief creative officer for Student and Academic Support Services, said GW has a stronger, more diverse student community in part because of the work of OLAS leadership in engaging Latino students.

In 2006, members of OLAS were devastated when one of their alumni, Imette St. Guillen, was murdered in New York City. In response, OLAS officials created a fund in memory of this 2003 graduate with the hope of raising $100,000 by 2008.

OLAS also works with student organizations around the District to create their very own Latino college community. The celebration of Latino cultures was the main focus of this years District of Columbia Latino Organization’s Winter Ball, hosted by OLAS. The Ball brought together different Latino student groups in D.C.

And yet simply fostering a Latino heritage is not the end of OLAS’s mission. Working with multicultural organizations like the Black Student Union and the Caribbean Student Association, OLAS hosted the “Taste My World” event last month, arranging live performances, food tastings and artistic displays influenced by African roots.

This year OLAS held its 11th annual Fiestasa, a night of food, fun and dancing to the theme of “Una Noche Caribeña,” a classy and sophisticated recreation of a 1950s Caribbean night on the town.

Later this semester, the group will host “Un Noche de Cultura.” Representing the culmination of the organization’s efforts for this year, it is a cultural celebration with Latin music, dance and food. Last year’s celebration was dedicated to St. Guillen.

“It is the event dearest to the hearts of all OLAS members, both current and alumni,” Monico said. “The diversity of this events attendance is also a feature that we take pride in.”

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