Chicanx Youth Conference celebrates 50 years


Fresno State Aztec Dance Club performing at the 50th Chicanx Youth Conference at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union on Jan. 28. (Carlos Rene Castro/The Collegian)

By Jazmin Alvarado Villegas, Reporter

On Jan. 28, the Chicanx Youth Conference (CYC) celebrated its 50th anniversary at Fresno State.

The event, at the Satellite Student Union, was organized by the Outreach and Special Programs department and the youth conference’s planning committee. The conference celebrated and honored its founding administrator and chair with legacy awards.

Frances Peña-Olgin, a member of Fresno State’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano De Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A) [and the] original CYC planning committee, was presented with a legacy award for her work in administration of the program.

She worked as the chair of the youth conference, also making it her thesis for her master’s degree in social work. The conference generated funding from multiple organizations.

Manuel Perez, the Chicanx Youth Conference founding administrator and associate dean of Student Affairs, was also a recipient of one of the legacy awards.

Perez was recognized for bringing stability to the program and is responsible for the evolution of several campus organizations designed to service underrepresented student groups on campus.

He believes the youth conference is a great motivation for students to be proud of themselves.

“It’s actually a place where they [students] can go and find out about themselves and be proud of who they are because in the past it wasn’t like that, no one wanted to be a minority group on campus,” Perez said.

Before the youth conference was organized, it began with (M.E.Ch.A), a student-run organization promoting unity and culture appreciation for Latino students through the means of political action.

The youth conference was then taken over by Outreach and Special Programs in 2016 once it became too large for student management alone.

The conference hopes to attract students to Fresno State by making them feel welcome and included as early as elementary school.

Hundreds of middle and high school students from the Central Valley packed Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union for the 50th Chicanx Youth Conference on Saturday, Jan. 28. (Carlos Rene Castro/ The Collegian)

“The main goal is exposure, specifically in hopes that the exposure will help students not only identify as Fresno State students for future enrollment, but also be able to create connections within their community here at state so that once they’re ready to enroll, we have future Bulldogs on the way,” said Yolanda Solis, president of M.E.Ch.A.

Martina Granados, the director of Outreach and Special Programs, said, “I think this program benefits the community as a whole because we’re educating the students bringing awareness to not only the opportunities for higher education but also giving them a sense of belonging.”

The conference was open to Chicanx students grades six through 12 from all over the Central Valley.

The event began with traditional Latino breakfast pastries like pan dulce. This was followed by the opening introduction and performance from Los Danzantes de Aztlán.

The club danced to a few traditional Aztec songs in colorful attire and feathers exemplifying what it means to be proud of one’s culture.

The CYC consists of four pillars: access to higher education, cultural awareness, social justice, and careers and leadership. The conference mainly focused on cultural appreciation and diversity while planting the seed of creating future leaders.

To continue the ceremony, Fresno State President, Saúl Jimenéz-Sandoval gave a university welcome speech following CYC recognition awards and two keynote speakers.

In the subsequent hours of the anniversary celebration were workshops in each of the four foundation pillars.  The workshops provided students with information on the pathways and resources available to them at Fresno State, along with explanations and ways to deeper understand their culture, and finally, examples of how youth have immense power in social movements.

A lunch and resource fair was also provided to the participants, followed by a conference evaluation, then concluded with closing remarks from members of the 2023 conference committee.

One of the main goals of the CYC is inclusivity and for students to be proud of their ethnic backgrounds no matter where they come from.

Ricardo Andrade, a counselor with Outreach and Special Programs, said, “It gives the students a sense of belonging especially because it is a cultural event. When students see other people that reflect their identities we hope that it creates a sense of inclusion so that they feel at home when they come to our institution.”

Keynote speaker and Fresno State alumn Rosendo Peña, Jr. speaking to the hundreds of students in attendance at the 50th Chicanx Youth Conference at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union on Saturday, Jan. 29. (Carlos Rene Casto/ The Collegian)

In the future, the conference will include Latinos from all over the world and have the capacity to reach a larger audience.

“Historically it’s only been Chicano students, but now we want to include all Latinos from Central America to South America,” said Andrade.

Ultimately the CYC will continue to encourage and promote higher education with the belief that “education is the light of the world,” according to Jimenéz-Sandoval.

Judge Rosendo Peña Jr., of 5th District Court of Appeals, a keynote speaker, said, “There are no limits to the heights you can reach if you pursue a higher education.”