WIU student aims to increase cultural awareness and acceptance on campus


MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) – The United States has a diverse range of cultures in its population, but some may find it difficult to hold on to their roots while assimilating.

Alondra Lavariega Castellanos, a first-generation college student at Western Illinois University, wants to change that. Her parents emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, a region known for its indigenous peoples and artisanal goods. 

However, she said her family has faced criticism when expressing different aspects of their native culture. She recalled one incident when they were told to “not speak Spanish.”

“I think it was in those times that I realized…they’re really trying to suppress us right now,” Lavariega Castellanos said. “I remember facing that adversity of not wanting to show the world who I really was. Embracing me being a Oaxaqueña, it was a really tough time.”

Lavariega Castellanos said she wants to break the cycle of cultural suppression. In her personal life, she said she is proud to see her nieces embrace Oaxaqueña culture and encourages them to do so. 

She also serves as treasurer of WIU’s Latin American Student Organization and is involved in other groups on campus. She wants to inspire other students to get involved on campus.

“I encourage everybody to embrace their culture because I know how that was,” Lavariega Castellanos said. “I know that inside suppression and how it felt, and it’s just a really horrible feeling that I wouldn’t want anybody to go through.”

When people embrace their own cultural roots, Lavariega Castellanos said, it can bring those around you to wider cultural acceptance. 

“It just allows for other people to be open-minded of who we are, of what we bring to the table, and it’s just a big melting pot,” Lavariega Castellanos said. “It’s beautiful.”

For WIU students in particular, she said college is the time for people to start that journey of acceptance.

“This is the time for you to get to know yourself,” Lavariega Castellanos said. “This is the time to be proud of who you are, regardless of how society continues to put a lot of us down.”

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