By: Marco Garcia (Loyola Junior)
The total percentage of Latinx/Hispanic students enrolled at Loyola University Chicago is 17%. That accounts for the largest POC student body on campus. Despite this statistic, many Latinx students feel as though they have no home here on campus.
But that may be about to change.
Leon “Leo” Diaz (21), is the freshly inaugurated MASA (Mexican American Student Association) president. MASA is one of Loyola Chicago’s few Latinx student organizations and has historically had minimal impact on campus. Diaz has big aspirations to change that.
Diaz’s passion for his heritage and vigor to give Latinx students a home, ultimately got him his position as MASA president and he couldn’t be more excited. Now that MASA’s board is completely new, the slate is clean and they’ve begun working on developing a new foundation for the organization.
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Diaz and discuss his vision for MASA and the Latinx student community.
*Interview had been edited for length and clarity*
RodgersEdge Reporter: Were there times that MASA or like other Latinx student orgs (organizations) felt a little underwhelming in comparison to other cultural clubs/organizations at Loyola?
Diaz: We’re all students; we all have our priorities and academics come first but there’s definitely [events] that we could’ve done that wouldn’t have been much of a commitment. So I did feel kind of disappointed, which is how a lot of people also felt. Especially compared to other cultural clubs like SJP or Hillel. All of them, they’re like “bangers, bangers, bangers,” and the Latinx we’re tucked away in a corner. You know?
The camaraderie that these clubs have, I would love to see within the Latinx organizations.
RER: You’ve got a lot of momentum under you right now, which is really exciting to see. Now that we’re in this new era, to kind of extend off of what you were just saying, what plans or goals do you have set for MASA to be the best version of itself?
Diaz: From the get-go, we’ve been speaking as a board that we don’t want MASA to be a burden on any of the board members. We want [board meetings and event planning] to be something that we look forward to. When it doesn’t feel like just another assignment, the members have that passion, that drive to do new events. Having bi-weekly meetings is one of our goals for this semester, because we want to be more active. And just like switch it up a little bit like exploring off-campus [Mexican Fine Art Museum], movie nights, guest speakers, or educational stuff.
RER: How would you say your pride as a Mexican-American has motivated you throughout your personal and academic life? Do you think that’s part of the reason why you’re in the position you are today?
DIAZ: 100%. Being Mexican is crucial to every single thing I do in my life. Whether it be academics, politics, or just what I do in my free time. When I’m here at “La Uni” [university] I’m not just here for me, I’m here for my family and for everyone who came before. I feel like the whole purpose of us being here at this beautiful university is that we got to do something not just for us, we got to think outside the box. What can I bring to others? What can I provide? What can this education that I’m getting provide for those who don’t have the opportunity to get the same education? It’s easy for the Latin American Diaspora here in the US to get kind of lost from our purpose and from our people. I feel it’s crucial not just for MASA, but for all the Latinx clubs here on campus, to have that drive to reconnect our people… with our people.
RER: What would you say to any Latinx/Hispanic students at the university right now who are struggling to find community?
DIAZ: That’s like the million dollar question. What I’d say to people struggling to find community is to put yourself out there. I know, it’s hard sometimes, but we’re in a different environment, we’re in a university, we’re all adults. Nobody’s gonna laugh at you for being like, “Oh, are you Mexican?” (Laughter) If we don’t put in the effort ourselves to meet new people, the events are gonna be there, the people are gonna be there, but you’re not going to be involved. We’re here, and we’re everywhere so you got to put in that social effort.
RER: What would you ultimately want your legacy to be, not only for the MASA but for the entire Latinx community at the university?
DIAZ: “Que si se puede!” [That we can do it!] We’re able to have events to make change and to build community. We just have to “de nuestra parte” [put in our part]. We’re all busy, we all have our lives, but I believe it’s possible for us to take 20-30 minutes out of our days to put in that effort. Those are those little moments that we don’t think are that meaningful. We can make [MASA] a pillar at Loyola. So that when people think of extracurriculars here at Loyola, they think of Masa. If we all work together, we can all get it done. We can do it together.
For more information about President Diaz and MASA, please visit: MASA’s instagram page here