After a year of struggle and triumph Athens Latinx Community Celebrates Culture

Latinx Heritage Month, Sept. 15–Oct. 15, recognizes the contributions of Latin Americans to the U.S. and celebrates the many cultures of Americans from Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean and Central and South America. For the ninth time, the celebration came to Athens for the annual Latinx Fest.

The festival—presented by Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA), the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition (AIRC) and Casa de Amistad—took over West Washington Street between Hull and Pulaski streets in downtown Athens.

“The festival is a great chance for the Latinx community to celebrate the food, music, dance and people that make our cultures special, and to share all that with the larger community,” said Beto Mendoza, organizer of the Latinx Fest and local activist.

This year was the first time the event was held on downtown streets. But to the Latinx community, it was more than just a change of venue.

2018 has been a year of many struggles and triumphs for the local Latinx community.

Clarke County Sheriff's Cooperation with ICE

In July 2017, Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards quietly instituted a new policy of complying with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold undocumented inmates for up to 48 hours. While detained, ICE could pick up and deport undocumented inmates, many of whom had not been convicted of a crime.

It wasn’t until January that the Athens community learned of the policy. Once made public, it was met with widespread criticism. As a result, Edwards reversed it in April.

Deborah Gonzalez, state representative for House District 117, was one of many that spoke out. For her, the political became even more personal.

Library-Wide Email Railing Against Undocumented Immigrants

On June 20, Kay Altschul, a librarian employee, sent out an email in the university-wide Listerv railing against undocumented immigrants and including content that could have violated the university’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy.

Email sent from Kay Altschul on the University of Georgia Library Listserv

In September, the Office of Multicultural Services and Programs and organizations such as the Hispanic Student Association, NAACP, Listo and MIXED received an anonymous letter that contained a copy of the email originally written by the library employee. The letter was received during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The message was referred to UGA’s Equal Opportunity Office to investigate and determine if the message violated the NDAH Policy, said Greg Trevor, the executive director of media communications.

The university prohibits harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity or national origin against “any member of the University Community on campus, in connection with a University program or activity, or in a manner that creates a hostile environment for any member of the University Community,” according to the NDAH policy on the EOO website.

Several university students and community members took to social media to voice their disappointment or outrage over the email. Crystal Gomez, a junior international affairs major from Claxton said she knows the negative values the employee associated with immigrants in the email are false.

“Most of the Latinx student community at the university were raised by immigrants or are immigrants ourselves. The values instilled in us were noble, ethical and positive so I’m just going to use what my parents taught me growing up and come out of this...and try to be a better person out of it,” Gomez said.

UGA Young Democrats also released a statement demanding the university terminate Altschul and condemning the “hatred” expressed in the email:

“The University of Georgia should not be complicit in hate, especially from its employees. Inaction from the University will demonstrate a lack of concern and a faulty commitment to the well being and success of underrepresented students, especially the Latinx students at UGA.”

Trevor said the university will not disclose the specifics of the investigations at this time, including the date when the case was referred to EOO. Altschul was not open to commenting on the email or the investigation.

Moving Forward

For many, the Latinx Fest symbolized the community stepping out and uniting.

“We are humans, and this is our home,” Mendoza said. “This is going to be a space for us to come together… for us to be real, to have an opinion, to be a part of the scene and to be like a real family.”

Mendoza said whether attendees were citizens, documented or undocumented, the festival was an opportunity for the community to come together, “because we are part of the same family.”

Created By
Ashlyn Webb


Ashlyn Webb and Maddie Ray

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