M.E.Ch.A. Here to Stay

November 29, 2012 by  

M.E.Ch.A has a rich past and a hopeful future at Thomas Jefferson High School.

M.E.Ch.A Co-Advisor Edward Salazar wants students to understand the culture that the club represents. Photo by Rachel Uyemura

Cultural awareness has always been an important value at Thomas Jefferson High School. With various community-oriented clubs at the school, culture has many definitions. However, in 2009 TJ revitalized one club that meant a lot to two teachers in particular.  With the help of Kimberly Holtmann, History Teacher Edward Salazar brought the club M.E.Ch.A (El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) back to TJ. “I was in M.E.Ch.A when I was in high school and again when I entered college. It was just a natural progression for me to start M.E.Ch.A here at Thomas Jefferson,” says an experienced Salazar.

Clubs serve many purposes at a high school. They can provide moral support, educate the school population about their purpose, or simply become a safe haven where students can go to be with other students who share something in common that the rest of their peers in school don’t necessarily understand or take interest in. Holtmann believes that it is important to let students know that teachers aren’t just there to teach; they are there to be a reliable resource. When she joined the club and became a co-sponsor she hoped to inform the members that she is there to be a resource and educate other students about culture. “When I became involved with M.E.Ch.A last fall I thought that it was important to educate people about their resources and that they are available to them,” stated a hopeful Holtmann. The club acts like a support group for the members who join, with resources such as unique scholarship opportunities and learning about the Mexican/American community.

Salazar, being a Mexican American (Chicano) himself, knows how important high school can be. Student involvement is what this group strives for. Seniors Arial Toliver and Sthefany Najera are the student presidents of the club. Their primary job is to run the meetings. “A normal M.E.Ch.A meeting consists of Arial and I introducing new members, if there are any. We talk about the field trips that we do, such as the La Raza conference, the Leadership conference. We talk about opportunities to earn money, M.E.Ch.A ideas, things we want to do,” said a proud Sthefany.The La Raza conference is a day of workshops on cultural, educational and career topics for Latino youth that is held for educators and students across Denver.

Clubs often hope to distinguish themselves from other clubs and be different. Not only does M.E.Ch.A celebrate a different culture but they focus on the students of the club. “We come together as one. We believe that education is first, so we work on a lot of educational issues. We work within the school more or less, rather than outside the school. We worry about our education and our club members’ educations first,” said Arial.

Both the girls have common stories about how they joined the club. “One big factor to me joining the club was that Salazar was my favorite teacher. One day he approached me in the hallway and dragged me in, and I have stayed there ever since,” Sthefany said.

These ladies also cook for each meeting. The dishes that might be seen at the M.E.Ch.A meetings are mainly Hispanic dishes.  Considering that these meetings are held during lunch it makes sense that the members would need to eat. The ladies admit that they love making homemade dishes, and they have a little bit of help from Holtmann and Salazar’s wife.

Salazar, Holtmann, and both of the girls have high expectations for the club.  “I hope that the club will expand and more people will join. I also hope that more people will understand what M.E.Ch.A really is,” says a hopeful Toliver. M.E.Ch.A meetings are held in room 233 every Thursday during lunch, and all students are welcome to join and take part in this joyful celebration of Hispanic culture.