Mexican Roots Uplift Puerto Rican Passion

Mexican Roots Uplift Puerto Rican Passion

Irma Romero

Former editor, Class of 1982

By Reina M Salcedo

Irma Romero, a 72-year-old Mexican woman, has helped shape the lives of not only students from NEIU but in her community as well. Irma realized that helping her Puerto Rican brothers and sisters was of crucial importance during her time at NEIU and afterwards. By the time that Irma got involved with Que Ondee Sola (QOS) and the Puerto Rican community she was already living in Humboldt Park; she felt that as a Latina it was her responsibility to make the community aware of many situations in Chicago and in Puerto Rico. After many protests at the university, Irma was ordered by what she calls the “White Student Legislation” to leave the campus because she was a “danger” to the students. Her peers felt that an injustice had been made and took her case to the Federal level, where a judge ruled in favor of Irma. This allowed her to obtain her Bachelor’s degree. Now a few decades later she has earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from NEIU after serving for AmeriCorps, which helped pay for this accomplishment. She is a woman who has experienced it all, including cancer, and continues to be an integral part of the history of the Humboldt Park community and NEIU. Irma Romero currently serves on the board of the Angelina Pedroso Center for Intercultural Affairs and Dr. Pedro Albizu High School and works at Roberto Clemente High School.

QOS: Describe NEIU during your year at the university. What were the major issues or most memorable student and community struggles during this period?

Romero: During my time at NEIU, students were worried about the U.S. Navy bombing routines and training on Vieques, Puerto Rico, which caused cancer among many Puerto Ricans. People protested and Angel Rodríguez Cristóbal got arrested and was killed in Tallahassee, Florida. Angel was a Puerto Rican activist who was part of an organization that protested against the issue.

Another big struggle was and continues to be Puerto Rico’s independence. Since there is no sovereignty, the U.S. and anyone could use Puerto Rico, because it is a colony. During this time, the students’ mission was not to become rich [individually] but to help their community progress.

QOS: What challenges did UPRS and QOS face and how did you try to address them? What alliances were important?

Romero: UPRS and QOS, along with the Chicano-Mexicano-Latino Student Union (CHIMEXLA), helped with any issue that was important to the students. It was not only about helping our Puerto Rican community but any student that felt that their needs were not being met by the university.  We did everything from conducting programs to talking with students about the issues occurring at the university.  A big issue was women’s rights along with helping and opening the doors to immigrant students because of the problems that the U.S. was causing in Latin American.  We formed alliances with all of the student organizations such as the Pakistani club.

QOS: What kind of impact did UPRS and QOS have on campus and the community? What accomplishments were you most proud of during your time?

Romero: Back then the plan was to design a minor in Chicano, Mexican, and Puerto Rican Studies and hopefully one day making it a major on campus.  We fought through the university and brought it up to President Ronald Williams, who then ended the positions of professors teaching Latin American and Puerto Rican history [in an attempt] to eliminate us from campus.  At the time, we had two spaces on campus – one for UPRS and the other for CHIMEXLA – and the President had these spaces closed-off, but we managed to still meet.

QOS: What is the importance of a Latino and Latin American Studies major and the recent building of a Latina/o Cultural & Resource Center?

Romero: When we fought for the Chicano, Mexican, and Puerto Rican Studies program we aimed to make it a minor which now I believe is Latino & Latin American Studies but what people don’t see is that we have been fighting for this for over 20 years along with a Latino Resource Center. People think that this just came about but it was decades of struggles that we went through.

QOS: Are there any ideas or experiences you would like to share with the present membership of these organizations and the broader Puerto Rican/Latino community?

Romero: When I was kicked off campus it was because I was accused of pushing the Vice-President of Student Affairs when I didn’t even touch him. It was really because we took over the Beehive building to demand our rights as students. It was so extreme that the FBI was on the campus. Now, I look at President Hahs and she hears us and is willing to work with us. So, the only piece of advice or idea that I can give the students now is to help us as a community fight for the freedom of Oscar López Rivera. He is still in jail after 31 years because of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government when that was never his intentions; he just wants to see Puerto Rico free. Not even Nelson Mandela served that long. I’m asking for the justice of our brothers in jail, justice in our community, and justice for immigration. Last piece of advice for students is “one needs to know who the enemy is and have them present.”

My interview with Irma Romero was so powerful, especially when her voice cracked and she came to tears recollecting on what she has been through with the university and the community. The passion that she has for the Puerto Rican community is immense. She says that she is proud of her Mexican roots but has found a home within the Puerto Rican community.  This goes to show that in order to make a change you do not have to share the exact background as someone else. My conversation with Irma was so inspiring that we will be continuing our conversation but in a more casual setting.

One Response to “Mexican Roots Uplift Puerto Rican Passion”

  1. Gaston Linan says:

    This great lady passed away today 01/11/2013. She is survived by her loving family and the many lives she touched.

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