César Berríos Chavarría '13 M'18
What began as a dream thousands of miles away in a small Latin American country is now rooted in the work César Berríos Chavarría '13 M'18 does as the Associate Director of the Multicultural Center (MCC). Born in Nicaragua, his parents immigrated to the U.S. for the opportunities it offered. Berríos is one of their American-dream success stories. He has a younger brother who is currently a USI student.
Graduating from USI with history and Spanish degrees, he once imagined he'd be an immigration lawyer. Instead of attending law school, he took a position with a title search company. Although not his passion, it provided comfort but led to complacency. Until his priest stepped in with an offer: the Office of Hispanic Ministry needed a bilingual Spanish/English speaker to provide outreach services to the Latino/a/x community in southern Indiana. Working with all ages, he soon found himself gravitating toward high school students and wanting to make higher education a reality for them.
What word sums you up?
Why and to whom are you so committed to making higher education accessible?
As a first-generation college student and immigrant, I understand what it is like to have a dream to go to college and face so many different barriers to get in. In the community I grew up in, the process of higher education can be quite difficult. Those who have had the privilege of going to college and understanding the process, we have a duty to serve those who need our assistance and guidance.
Prior to becoming the Associate Director of MCC, you were the department's Program Advisor. How did programming change under your leadership?
When I came in as the Program Advisor, my goal was to expand our programs, particularly for our Latino/a/x students, and celebrate the various Latin American cultures and identities that were present on our campus. The first program was a series of Latin style dance classes (Latin Rhythms). As I continued to build relationships with students and learned about their wants and needs, I created other programs and events: Pan Dulce, Latinx Movie Night and Latino Americans. In the end, my Latino/a/x focused programs all have the same intention, to promote diversity, embrace our identities, and celebrate our history and contributions in the United States and globally.
Pan Dulce is one of the programs you created.
Tell us what it is and why it is important. The idea is very simple, yet very intentional. The literal translation for Pan Dulce is “Sweet Bread” and the program provides a safe space where Latino/a/x students come together and share their lived experiences, opinions and emotions without judgement, all while we enjoy some delicious traditional Latin American pastries. It allows students to be their authentic self, which is why this program is so important.
How do you help pave the way to college for those who think it is out of their reach?
I serve as an ally and supporter for all students who want to go to college, especially those who have more of a difficult time navigating the process, as well as their parents. By helping and supporting the parents, they feel empowered to play a more active role in the college process for their child(ren). We must work as a community, a team, a group of people with one mission in mind: the success of students.
What book should everyone read, and why?
This is a tough question, but I would say "Latino Americans: The 500 Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation". The book explores the lives of Latino American men and women over a period of 500 years during European settlements, the Spanish-American War, the Wild West, World War I and II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and much more. It is eye-opening and gives a different perspective of American history.