Angry and frustrated about what they charged are a lack of programs and support for Latino students, about 450 UC Irvine students turned a Cinco de Mayo celebration into a protest rally Friday and marched to the chancellor's fifth-floor office to voice their demands.
"We want to express ourselves culturally," said Angela Acosta, 23, co-chairperson of the UC Irvine chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Atzlan. "But we also want to share the anger that we are feeling every day and to raise the consciousness because we have a lot to not celebrate."
The noontime rally drew students, faculty, and community leaders to the steps beside the administration building. After the campus' Ballet Folklorico performed, several speakers addressed the students, often emotionally.
Enriqueta Lopez Ramos, who founded the UCI chapter of MEChA 24 years ago, said "Then, we were told there was no money to hire the people to help us, and we still don't have the money. I wish I could tell you to have hope, but I can't. Things are not getting better here."
Ramos, now a professor at Cypress College, cried during her address, and hugged colleagues and students afterward.
The list of student demands includes increasing the number of Latino students, hiring more Latino faculty and administrators, providing a full-time Latino psychologist for the Counseling Center, and building a bridge with the surrounding Latino neighborhoods, such as Santa Ana.
"We want a firm commitment from the administrators that they will address our needs," Acosta said to the crowd, drawing cheers.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Jack W. Peltason, who was off the campus on business, issued a statement saying that multicultural programs "have been a campuswide priority for several years, with a considerable investment not only of financial resources and time, but of sincere energy of the faculty, students, staff and administration."
Peltason described the Hughes Summer Science Academy, which trains high school students on campus, as a successful outreach program and also praised the development of Latino, African-American and Asian-American studies programs.
Manuel Gomez, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, who attended the rally, said that "the expression in the rally from the students are in line with the university's aspirations."
"We want to serve the California constituency in a fuller fashion, but the unfortunate fiscal crisis, in the long term, makes the access to higher education in the future extremely depressing and serious," Gomez said. "Like every other institution in California, we are caught within the sad paralysis of the budget system."
But many at the rally were dissatisfied with the explanation.
When dance lecturer Juan Rios asked the students if they believed the budget was to blame, the crowd hollered no. When Rios asked them how much they paid for tuition, they answered, "Too much."
According to Acosta, although the enrollment of Latino students has increased, attrition rates are about 40%, more than double the average.
UCI anthropology professor Leo Chavez, describing the current system as "apartheid," angrily told the story of an 18-year-old valedictorian who could not enroll at UC Irvine because she could not afford the tuition for foreign students. Although reared in this country, her parents had no residential status here, he said.
Gomez, however, said the issue of granting full rights to the children of illegal immigrants was in the courts and beyond the jurisdiction of the university.
Chavez urged the students to persist in their demands.
"We are not a conquered people," Chavez said. "Close your eyes, 200 years ago you heard the same music you heard today. Close your eyes, and 200 years later, we'll hear the same music again."