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Classes, experiences help Blugold connect with his Latinx/Latine roots

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Andrés Mallea always was aware of his Latinx/Latine identity, but he’s learning more about his community’s history thanks to the Latin American and Latinx studies courses and real-world learning opportunities he’s finding as a Blugold. (Photos by Shane Opatz)

Growing up, Andrés Mallea was aware of his Latinx/Latine identity, but he didn’t know much about his community’s history.

That’s changing thanks to the people, classes and real-world opportunities he’s found at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, says Mallea, a Latin American and Latinx studies-culture emphasis major.

“Going into college, I wanted to learn more about my community’s history since in my K-12 schooling Latin America was never talked about enough,” says Mallea of Minnetonka, Minnesota.

After taking Contemporary Latin American Civilization, a history course taught in Spanish, Mallea knew LAS was the right major for him.

“Learning about Latin American history in my native language was impactful,” Mallea says. “It’s pushed me to let others know the countless facts about Latin America that many sadly don’t know.”

LAS faculty — including Dr. Manuel Fernandez, LAS program director, and Dr. Cheryl Jiménez Frei, assistant professor of history and LAS — all have “contributed to my passion to advocate for my community while also strengthening my connection with my roots,” Mallea says.

Andrés Mallea

During Winterim, Mallea spent 10 days volunteering in Puerto Rico as part of a UW-Eau Claire immersion program. The experience, he says, was life-changing.

“It was a very cool way to get my service-learning hours done while also experiencing a different culture within the U.S. territory,” Mallea says. “As an LAS major, I’m aware of the complexity of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. and wanted to see it from a raw perspective.”

He says the immersion exceeded his expectations and gave him “the right amount of reassurance about choosing my major.”

“Latin America is no stranger to resilience and Puerto Rican resilience in particular is loud and proud and should be recognized,” Mallea says. “I gained so much knowledge about Puerto Rican culture from talking to locals and helping with whatever was needed of me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have been part of something this special.”

Andrés Mallea

He says a highlight of the immersion was meeting an elderly Puerto Rican woman who’d previously lived in a New Jersey community that was home to many Peruvians. She knew a lot about Peruvian culture, including about Inka Cola, a Peruvian soda that Mallea says is his “favorite of all time.”

“That small moment impacted me greatly because to have someone in my big community know specific things about my more personal identity made me feel seen,” Mallea says.

Calling his fellow Blugolds “some of the best people I’ve ever met,” Mallea says he’s grateful for the “lifelong connections and unforgettable” friendships he made during the immersion.

Before coming to UW-Eau Claire, Mallea says he “didn’t even know that immersion programs like this existed.” Now he understands they’re “opportunities that make you think about your privileges and identities, which make a grand impact on how you move forward in your life.”

That UW-Eau Claire offers students these kinds of experiences “makes me really feel like I chose the right place to go to college,” Mallea says.