By: Isabella Urbani, Staff Writer
You hear it said time and time again. Joining a club at any level — high school, university, adulthood — can be a life changing experience. This is true for both domestic and international students navigating post-secondary, and especially beneficial for international students adjusting to the traditions and culture of an entirely new country.
Arturo Pacheco, president of SFU’s Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) and third year criminology major, has experienced these benefits first-hand. Coming to SFU as an international student from Mexico, Pacheco joined the club back in Spring 2019 to gain new friends.
“As an international student, the first couple of months are rough because you’re just missing your parents every day or being with people from singular cultural backgrounds. ALAS is a way to feel like you’re back at home,” Pacheco expressed.
Since its beginnings in the 2000s, ALAS has provided a “safe environment for entertainment and a place to share Latin American roots, culture, festivities, food; we want to promote the best of having a multicultural community,” said Pacheco.
Part of having a multicultural community is embracing all identities. ALAS isn’t just home to Latin American students, explained Pacheco. “We don’t really care where you’re from or who you are. We just want to share our cultural backgrounds, and we expect for you to respect our festivities and food. We just want to have a good, healthy, peaceful community.”
That being said, the club is still dedicated to helping Latin American students gain their footing on campus through running events to help students make connections and making them aware of what the university has to offer.
Their first event of the semester, which Pacheco described as a “networking, getting to know people from your same background” icebreaker, took place on May 27, but the club has many other events upcoming. “The ones that are already on the table, and waiting for the weather to clear up a bit, are [trips] to Kitsilano beach to play volleyball. We’re going to have volleyball tournaments on Saturdays,” Pacheco said.
Additionally, to help students to better understand the events and opportunities SFU and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) have to offer, ALAS vice-president Lester Pino created a podcast called The Latin Corner.
“The main goal of the podcast is to be informative about SFU, SFSS, and experiences on campus,” revealed Pacheco. “We all remember when we first came to campus as an international student, we had no idea what the SFSS had to offer, SFU itself, or even how to connect with people.”
Much like the club, the podcast isn’t just meant for Latin American students. “That is why we also wanted to touch on other clubs, and give them a platform to introduce themselves, where to find them, and what they do,” said Pacheco.
He explained the idea for the podcast is to highlight groups who’ve had a “huge impact on campus,” such as SFU350 whose mural protested SFU’s lack of climate action.
“SFU350 rocked the campus with their protest. That was amazing, I loved the mural! So, that’s why we wanted to get in touch — to give them another platform to show their club and their activities.”
Connection, collaboration, and community are priorities for ALAS and they have kick-started initiatives to give back to local communities.
“Last winter was super cold and there are some social, economic issues everyone knows about, everyone can see in downtown, and we wanted to do something about it. We’ve come so far from Latin America, we are so happy to be here and give back to the community in any way we can,” he said.
ALAS hosted a clothing drive this past March along with UBC Mexican Student Association. The clothing drive was an idea by Pino, which Pacheco referred to as a “goldmine” for how much they were able to collect. Donations from the clothing drive went to Lookout Society, an organization working to reduce barriers to accessing housing.
“We arranged for a bucket in the Convocation Mall for people to drop stuff in, mostly winter stuff. We donated 20 killos (44 pounds). Their smile was so heartwarming, it was so worth it,” said Pacheco.
He added the club has always donated proceeds from ticketed events to various organizations.
Normally, ALAS meets once a week to discuss club matters. As of right now, meetings are hybrid. For those who are able to make it, ALAS meetings take place on the third floor of the W.A.C. Bennett Library in the Media and Maker Commons. However, as the weather heats up, they will be looking to host meetings outside. They also use WhatsApp and Discord for cultural and personal conversations throughout the week and to circulate event invitations.
For the last three years, Pacheco has made “beautiful connections” thanks to ALAS that have extended past the club. He still goes biking with the former vice president of the club. Pacheco encourages readers to give their events a try. Whether you want to talk about food, culture, or the World Cup Qualifiers — which sparks tons of playful debates among members of the club — ALAS welcomes all. “If you’re a first year student or you feel like you need more interaction, give us a message, reach out; we will do whatever we can to make you feel at home.”
For more information about ALAS at their future events, check out their Instagram @sfu_alas. They also have their podcast linked for listening in their bio.