By Saira Rodriguez
Having lived in Los Angeles, I was exposed to a great deal of cultural diversity and I fully expected the less cosmopolitan demographics in Santa Barbara to be something I would struggle with during my first months as a transfer student here.
Students of 'white' ethnicity make up the majority of the population at UC Santa Barbara at 36 percent, while Latino/Chicano students make up only 27 percent and Black/African Americans make up a mere five percent. Coming from a place where I had known mostly Latin neighborhoods, to a new city where I saw very few of my culture, left me with disorienting emotions concerning where I fit in.
It wasn't until I joined Hermanas Unidas, a Latina/Chicana campus organization, that I finally felt a sense of belonging. It gave me a new home away from home. Hermanas Unidas, or United Sisters, is an organization that serves the Latina/Chicana community on campus and provides boundless opportunities and resources for its members. Quarterly retreats and road trips to other chapters allow new and current members to explore places outside of campus, and to bond and build social relationships with one another. Organizing a Valentine's day dance for a retirement home in Goleta and volunteering at local elementary schools to guide troubled youth who struggle in school, are just a few activities that provide Hermanas an opportunity to invest in something larger than themselves.
Conscientious UCSB students might fear that joining any sort of organization on campus could distract them from classes. But this organization has proved to be the opposite of distracting, instead enhancing my academics. HaU has helped me navigate the transition from a 15-week, semester-based community college to a fast-paced, 10-week quarter, university system. Hermanas encourages its members to stay academically focused. And by attending the study hours they organize on a daily basis, I have found myself keeping up with the heavy workload I am faced with every quarter.
So far, I have found more leadership, internship and scholarship resources through this organization than any other I have come across on campus. Our group even holds a yearly conference to which HaU chapters from all over California are invited. At the conferences, HaU alumni who have become successful in their careers, speak on the the influence of this organization and how it initially helped them during, and even after, their time in college. These conferences, which are held in different locations every year, also provide us with professional networking interactions that are essential for students who want to start their desired careers after graduation.
Optional community service events also help students who are struggling to find their place. Our fundraisers include teaming up with local Isla Vista restaurants such as Super Cucas, Blaze Pizza and Hana Kitchen to raise money for the yearly conference. Outreach programs, beach clean-ups, toy and food drives are also run by HaU. Such outreach proved essential in aiding locals who were affected by the Montecito mudslide and Thomas Fire disasters last winter.
Lastly, this organization has introduced me to countless young women with broad imaginations, hopes and dreams, women who strive to be leaders and influencers both on and off campus. They are my hermanas, my sisters. Whether we're pulling all-nighters at the library during our study hours, struggling to clear our schedules for one of our community events, or practically rolling on the floor from laughter at one of our social events, I know that I am now a part of a family that will live on for many generations.
Saira Rodriguez is a UCSB Junior, majoring in Communication, who is pursuing journalism courses in the Writing Program.