In the fantasy land that it sometimes seemed like up at Cornell University (especially for a Latino from New York City), in the summer of 1981, an idea was born. It was an idea that would take a life of its own. A conversation was started by a group of Latinos on campus that summer brought up the fact that there was a need for a Latino fraternity at Cornell. At the time, there was little choice for Latinos who wanted to join a fraternity; you either joined a traditionally white fraternity or a traditionally black one. This group of Latinos began not only to talk about the idea of creating a Latino fraternity, but to take some steps towards building one. From that summer conversation sprung informal meetings to discuss the idea.
I was working as a Peer Counselor for the minority Summer Program at the time. Everyone agreed that there was a need for brotherhood and unity as well as a need for more cultural expression and exchange of ideas between Latinos at Cornell, but very few were willing to commit to more than words. We all wanted this new fraternity to not be a typical fraternity – less Animal House and more one of true Latino Unity and Culture and academic excellence. We wanted this new fraternity to shine for its Latino pride and represent all that is good in our people and culture.
The Early Days
That following semester (Fall 1981) the work began on organizing the Latino fraternity. The organizing was slow. Most people indicated an interest in the mission, but few committed themselves. The first few meetings were attended by only a handful of people. After the fourth meeting, the core group had expanded. A club, La Unidad Latina was registered with the university on 9/15/81, with myself as President. The intent was to register first as a club and then officially become a fraternity. After much work at recruiting people, the fraternity started to gain form. From approximately 30 interested men, La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity was formed with 13 members:
The Founding Fathers of La Unidad Latina are:
1. Hermano William Barba – Senior Pre-Medicine
2. Hermano Dennis DeJesus – Sophomore Pre-Medicine
3. Hermano Hernando Londoño – Sophomore Engineering
4. Hermano Jesse Luis – Sophomore Engineering
5. Hermano Samuel Ramos – Senior Engineering
6. Hermano Tomas Rincon – Sophomore Engineering
7. Hermano Edwin Rivera – Junior Engineering
8. Hermano Mario Rivera – Junior Engineering
9. Hermano Victor Rodriguez – Senior Economics
10. Hermano Victor Silva – Sophomore Pre-Medicine
11. Hermano Jose Torres – Junior Pre-Medicine
12. Hermano Henry Villareal – Faculty Advisor
13. Hermano Jim Ziebell – Cornell Administrator
*Honorary Founder: Hermano Angel Montañez
It was very tough to get engineers and pre-med students to give up any of their free time, but in spite of this, we marched forward. The fraternity was finally registered as an official fraternity with the university in the beginning of the second semester, January 1982. On Friday, February 19th 1982, an initiation ceremony was held at Henry Villareal’s (our faculty advisor) home, and we became the Founding Fathers (Los Fundadores) of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity. La Fraternidad uses the February 19, 1982, as the founding date because it was at this ceremony, that the group formally took their oaths and became Hermanos of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc.
One of the things that impressed us the most at the inception of La Fraternidad was when our Faculty Advisor, Henry Villareal, and Jim Ziebell, a Cornell Administrator, asked us to become Hermanos. This was very important to us because it made us realize that what we were doing was something special. Being primarily a group of sophomores and juniors, we were very honored when these two faculty members asked us to let them join. There were many times that we held meetings (business and social) at Henry’s place. He helped to provide a foundation for our young organization. He also provided much needed guidance and counseling to the group as well as to all Hermanos individually.
The idea of a Latino Fraternity originated out of a need at the Cornell campus. In that environment there was a small number of Latinos relative to the rest of the population, as well as an almost non-existent Latino community around the university. The existing Latino student organizations did not provide enough sense of unity among the Latino population. There was no focal point for Latino culture. Many of the students needed a place to find their cultural roots. There were also many divisions among the Latinos. These factors coalesced to create the need for the creation of La Fraternidad. The need was there, and through the hard work, dedication, and faith in our destiny, La Fraternidad was founded.
The idea started in that campus, but our dream then, as well as now, is to spread La Fraternidad, its ideas and goals across the U.S., and the Americas. Our ideas of Latino Unity, Culture and empowerment require life time commitments. We want Hermanos that will become the leaders of our people, that will make great sacrifices for the benefit of our people, that stand for and live up to the best of the Latino culture. It seems a long time now from those early days when we had meetings on the steps of Barnes Hall or a room in Willard Straight. Now we have several chapter websites on the internet, as well as a national website, http://www.launidadlatina.org, a national governing structure, and a business/strategic plan. The real test of a successful organization is what happens after the founders are no longer running the day to day activity.
We are now going into our 31st year anniversary and LUL is going strong and leading as the premier Latino Greek organization. There are of course still many growing pains and we are still evolving. Why did I share with you our story? First, I am very proud to be part of this fraternity which started at Cornell and is spreading throughout this country. Second, this story is part of the Latino story at Cornell and even if we are not directly involved with LUL, we can still be proud that this great organization had its origins at our Alma Mater.
Finally, I think that the fact of the matter is that as a group, Latinos have many formidable challenges. One of the biggest is in the area of education. We are the lucky ones. For whatever reason (hard work being one of them) we were able to go to and graduate from one of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. I feel obligated to give back to the community and hopefully inspire or be a role model to a young brother or sister to help them realize that they too can excel at whatever they set their mind to. I believe that there is room for various types of organizations, alumni, professional, cultural, etc. as well as fraternities and sororities. What sets the fraternities/sororities apart, is the level of interaction and commitment of its members. There is a much deeper experience when someone considers the other person an Hermano, in comparison to just another member of an organization. That is not to say that a Fraternity can or should replace those other organizations. On the contrary, both can benefit from their mutual existence.
With this said, I believe that we really have an obligation to get involved and do what we can to help out and give back some of our time and resources to help those that come behind us. I would also like to invite you to explore the possibilities of joining LUL, at the professional level, where the focus is on networking/mentoring and community service, and of course, experiencing that extra special feeling of being an Hermano. For the women reading this, there are of course many Latina Sororities that would love to have you and your experiences and expertise. The bottom line is we need to get involved and give.
La Unidad Para Siempre!