Milwaukie High School Latino club brings home statewide awards
School counselor Roberto Aguilar told his students at Milwaukie High School that he wanted them to "dominate" the statewide César E Chávez Leadership Conference on March 2.
Seniors in the school's Latino club did dominate, bringing home three out of four possible awards, including a statewide best-art award for Angel Reyes, who drew an interpretation of a famous photograph of Chávez himself for the prize. To prepare for the contest, Reyes researched Chávez's activism for Oregon migrant workers and looked at various images of the iconic historical figure.
"I settled on a photograph of just him smiling, and I thought this was perfect," Reyes said. "It represents his greatness and the things he's accomplished for the Hispanic/Latino community."
Reyes' pencil-on-paper drawing of Chávez is typical of his chosen medium that he's been working to master as long as he can remember throughout his life. In addition to portraits, he applies graphite to paper for cartoons and other fantastic representations that spring from his imagination.
Reyes is working on more than a dozen pieces for the Advanced Placement art exam in April. He credits the new Latino student club at MHS with getting him to think more about his heritage and his place in the U.S.
"Joining [this club] Ascensión opened my perspective on a bunch of things: the community I grew up in and the nation as a whole," he said.
Giving Latinos a bigger voice in MHS and the community at large is a big priority for Odalis Aguilar-Aguilar, the senior class president and co-founder about a year ago of Ascensión with her school counselor. Winner of the Chávez outstanding leadership prize for her work in Clackamas County, Aguilar-Aguilar was one of the chief organizers of the peaceful March 14 student walkout at MHS, which she coordinated in tandem with thousands of other school walkouts across the country to protest U.S. congressional inaction in response to gun violence.
"It is a big realization if so many students in the country are participating, that so many people are affected by gun violence in schools — teachers, students and parents," she said. "I hope that politicians in Washington D.C. are impacted and realize that this is something they have to deal with."
Aguilar-Aguilar said one of the biggest reasons she ran for the office of class president was to represent her community. With over a third of the student body Hispanic or Latino, she would like her community to feel more comfortable attending school events.
In February with the Clackamas High School's Latino club, she co-organized a Latino school dance (a separate event from the traditional Homecoming or Winter Formal dances) that played music largely in Spanish. On May 11, she is organizing a Relay for Life event to raise money for the American Cancer Society, which will take place on the same night as the Noche Latino cultural showcase. For all these events she has made sure that the invitation has been extended to the whole North Clackamas community, Hispanic or not.
"Up until senior year, I never went to football games because I thought, 'people like me don't go to football games,' but I found out they're fun," she said. "I'd like my Latino peers to engage in activities and feel like they're a part of this community."
Aguilar-Aguilar has been accepted into University of Portland, Washington State University and University of California-Merced. She was still waiting to hear back on applications to four other state colleges in California, including Stanford University.
Josué Mendoza, who's also been accepted to U of P and WSU, also distinguished himself in the Chávez awards by getting assigned as a Portland Timbers bilingual reporter. A fan since middle school, Mendoza has had to watch most of the games on TV, because he says it's generally been too costly for his family to attend games unless they are lucky enough to win free tickets.
Mendoza was a rightwing midfielder on the MHS's soccer team and has requested interviews with some of the top Timbers players of various key positions: Diego Valeri, Diego Chará and Marco Farfan. He will ask questions in both English and Spanish and translate the interview into both languages for posting on the Timbers website.
"I'm pretty excited to see the players and watch how they practice," he said.