Martin Ortiz’s legacy: ¡sí se puede!

Martin Ortiz’s legacy: ¡sí se puede!

WC celebrates forty-seventh annual Tardeada for Latinx Poets

Juan Zuniga-Mejia

FEATURES EDITOR 

Last Saturday, Oct. 13, Whittier College hosted their forty-seventh annual Tardeada in honor of the late Martin Ortiz, an advocate for the Latinx cultures and communities of Whittier College. Tardeada, which translates to ‘an early afternoon party,’ was held at Club 88. Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) Jenny Guerra and her staff spent the past summer preparing for Tardeada, which was in celebration of the Bien Común (Common Good) of diverse cultures and a familia unida (united family) to connect the Poet community. 

 Studio Danza, a local dancing studio, welcomes people of all ages and dancing experiences for weekly classes in various dancing styles.

Studio Danza, a local dancing studio, welcomes people of all ages and dancing experiences for weekly classes in various dancing styles.

Tardeada featured Studio Danza, a local dance studio, who presented Folklorico dancers and other various Latinx dances. Dancers ranged from younger kids to young adults. The event also included spoken word poetry by Whittier College students that showed support for women of color, Latinx communities, staying strong with tolerance, and overall positivity to be a better person. These featured events all represented the legacy of Martin Ortiz and the impact he made on Whittier College.

In 1968, Ortiz founded the Center of Mexican American Affairs, now known as the OEI, at Whittier College as an alumnus of the class of 1948. Ortiz’s goal was to nurture the Latinx and Hispanic culture in Whittier, bringing a level of diversity to the College that has evolved the demographics and confidence of Latinx Poets. 

Eliseo Alex Tenorio, dedicated volunteer and mentee of Ortiz, took the podium at Tardeada. Wearing black attire and a sombrero on his head, Tenorio opened by saying, “I’m wearing this outfit today not because I’m a cowboy, but because Martin Ortiz was born in . . . Wichita, Kansas.” Tenorio then proceeded to honor Ortiz’s memory by sharing his story. 

Ortiz was raised in an area named El Huarache, a Mexican community that worked in  slaughterhouses and meat packing. As a kid, he was an English language learner and was taunted by his peers and degraded by his teachers, who put a sign around his neck that read, ‘I’m retarded.’ When the Great Depression struck, Ortiz dropped out of high school and went on the road with friends. He became homeless. “The hobo experience, for him, taught him how to talk to people — how to hear stories and get other people’s opinion on things,” said Tenorio. “When he came back to high school, he finished [school] in Wichita, Kansas, and he became the first Latino student body president.” 

Ortiz’s rising success was interrupted with the turn of World War II, when he left Friends University, a Christian college in Kansas. According to an article in Los Angeles Times, “Ortiz left the college after one semester to join the Marines in 1942. He served in the South Pacific as an aerologist and language specialist.” Tenorio further explained that when Ortiz finished his service, he enrolled to Whittier College to finish his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. Tenorio was recruited by Ortiz in 1971, but he said it was not the first time he met Ortiz. 

 Eliseo Alex Tenorio, dedicated volunteer and mentee of Ortiz, shared Ortiz’s story of how he became El Jefe.

Eliseo Alex Tenorio, dedicated volunteer and mentee of Ortiz, shared Ortiz’s story of how he became El Jefe.

“The first time I met Martin Ortiz was in 1951, when I was nine years old,” said Tenorio. “The first thing he asked me was, ‘What college are you going to?’ I said, ‘I’m just trying to get out of elementary school. I’m not thinking on any college.’ ” The audience laughed with the idea of this older man asking a nine-year-old long-term college questions; then Tenorio continued, “[Ortiz] says, ‘Think about Whittier College.’ Yeah, you know, I’m nine years old; I’m thinking about what to eat,” said Tenorio. But, Ortiz’s advice stuck with Tenorio, and he later enrolled at Whittier College on a scholarship. He continued Ortiz’s legacy and loyalty to Latinx citizens by recruiting students in the area to apply to Whittier College. “At the time [when] I was here, there were 67 of us,” said Tenorio. “I’m very proud to say that, since that time, we have gotten to be a [Hispanic-]Serving Institute.” 

Alumni and those of the Ortiz Programs continue to keep Ortiz’s legacy alive. Next year will be the celebration of his one-hundredth birthday. “We have a drive right now,” said Tenorio. “[We are] trying to raise $100,000 for the Martin Ortiz Programs.” These programs include the Martin Endowed Scholarship, the Alianza de los Amigos Martin Ortiz Fellowship, and the Ortiz Programs, which all work to continue support Hispanic and Latinx Poets. For further information on these fellowships and programs, visit www.whittier.edu/giving/specialinitiatives/ortiz.

“Martin’s favorite saying used to be ‘sí se puede,’ ” said Tenorio. “I continue that and say, ‘sí se puede.’ With your help, we can do great things, but rhetoric is no imitation for action. And we need action.” Ortiz stood for change and community. He worked hard to create homes and better the equality of Latinx and Hispanic minorities. 

Tardeada celebrates a man who was a compassionate mentor, and who was in tune with the struggles of first generation students. He was known by his mentees as El Jefe, which is Spanish slang for ‘the boss,’ and as a father figure. Ortiz aspired to make a difference in people’s lives. To keep his legacy alive, the Ortiz Programs and its alumni members will continue to reach out to more alumni to reach their goal of $100,000 to further support the Latinx community.