Emma Brentjens ‘21

Staff Writer

From left to right: Glo Merriweather, Itziri Gonzalez-Bercenas ‘19, Brice Rosette, and Ke’ala Lopez. Photo courtesy Itziri Gonzalez-Bercenas ‘19. 

The weekend of March 29 through March 31, Davidson became the first southern school to host the ninth annual Collegiate Alliance for Immigration Reform (CAIR) Conference, comprised of several activities and lectures, including two keynote speakers. Some Davidson professors and speakers from local groups in Charlotte, such as Charlotte Uprising, Comunidad Colectiva, and the Southeast Asian Coalition, also participated. 

“I think something that I saw people enjoying was [that] each style was so distinct and unique and engaging in kind of a different way,” said Cynthia Rodriguez ‘20, one of the conference organizers, along with Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas ‘19, Alan Morales Loyola ‘21, Uyen Nguyen ‘20, Yara Quezada Marino ‘21, Tony Solis Cruz ‘19, and Leslie Vergara ‘21.

Rodriguez, who got involved after she came back from studying abroad, worked on verifying food, payments, panelists, and speakers. She added that during the conference, for her, “it was kind of on-call,” in terms of presenting speakers and assigning last-minute hosts for visiting students. Morales Loyola contributed to the conference’s website and worked with Technology and Innovation and Physical Plant in organizing the event. 

The conference planning began last year when a group of students attended the CAIR Conference at Harvard College. The event is entirely student-run, and “students really hold each other accountable to continuing the conference,” Rodriguez said. “It is important that it’s very student-run, because that’s somewhat of a call-to-action to the community in general,” Morales Loyola explained.

The group is currently in the process of choosing the next group of students and host institution. “I think there was a lot of interest in bringing this initiative and these ideas back to their own campuses and communities, which was really exciting for us,” Rodriguez said. 

In the search for the next conference host, “location is something really important to us,” Rodriguez said, especially after having hosted it in the South for the first time. Morales Loyola said that many people may not “think about the region being very receptive to immigrants.” 

“The South is, I think, a place people don’t think about when it comes to immigration, but it’s slowly becoming one,” Rodriguez said. For example, in Charlotte, “there is a very particular increase in Southeast Asian immigration,” she added.

Most immigrants in North Carolina live in Mecklenburg and and Wake counties. Latinx immigrants make up seven percent of Mecklenburg County’s population, while four percent of the population is comprised of Asian immigrants [1]. In fact, North Carolina has one of the fastest growing Asian and Pacific Islander populations in the country [2]. According to a site run by UNC Greensboro, Asian, African, Eastern European, and Caribbean immigrants contribute to the local population [3]. 

Morales Loyola “liked that there was a step away from just the traditional immigration talk.” “Even students on campus that I guess would not really fit the stereotypical immigrant are affected by immigration,” he said. 

“We wanted the conversation of immigration to be about beyond what is typically portrayed in the media,” Morales Loyola said. However, despite the group’s efforts “to de-center the Latinx narrative in immigration… the conference did end up being Latinx-centric,” Rodriguez said. Without this de-centering, “it erases the fact and reality of immigration being a Black issue and pan-Asian issue,” she added.

Rodriguez continued that, although the conference included speakers from different backgrounds, “everything existed within a Latin American context or narrative.” For example, some presentations used Spanish without translation. When choosing the next hosts, the group “will be looking for applications that address the centralizing of the Latinx immigration narrative and seek to de-center it,” she said.

“I think if we’re measuring success by just general student feedback about the content, about their levels of inspiration and reflection, I would say it was pretty successful,” Rodriguez said. However, Morales Loyola expressed that he “honestly would have liked to see more Davidson students” at the conference.

Daniel Thomas ‘21, who attended the conference, said, “for me personally, it was just a good learning experience.” Thomas expressed that, as a first-generation American, “this topic is very impactful to me and also to members of my family who are struggling with immigration.” Despite not having previously shared his connection to immigration, he said, “this event did allow me to sort of loosen up a bit.”

Thomas found the second keynote presentation by Alan Pelaez Lopez, an Afro-indigenous poet and artist from Mexico, to be especially poignant. “I went in thinking it would be about something but it turned out to be about an entirely different topic,” he said. Pelaez Lopez’s main question considered the fight for citizenship in America alongside the struggle many indigenous people face in gaining basic rights. “It was a part that I never really considered,” Thomas  continued.

Thomas also had an opportunity to meet students who attended from other schools. He said the conference allowed him to listen to others’ stories and share his own: “I hope moving forward that here at Davidson we can, as a community, help create those spaces where students feel comfortable sharing their own lived experiences.”