Beatrice Esquivel was in her second year at Wayne State when she was encouraged to join Latino en Marcha, a leadership development training program that provides young Latino people from Detroit access to a college education.
She had no idea at the time that she would play a role in opening similar opportunities to other Latinos — including members of her own family — at Wayne State for generations to come.
Esquivel joined along with her brother, Benny, and was part of the program’s first class in 1971. Now, more than 50 years later, her great nephew, Michael Ramirez, is a mentor in the Wayne State Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS) — which was born from Latino en Marcha.
“It's a really awesome feeling to know that your family helped lay the groundwork for a very important organization, one that's thriving today,” Ramirez said. “I think it’s one of the top ethnic organizations at Wayne State, if not the top one. To know that my family — people that I know and have loved my whole life — have helped set the roots for something like that is really cool.
“And I think it also puts a responsibility, in a good way, on my shoulders to continue that tradition and to ensure that the program is growing and flourishing.”
With more than 50 years of commitment to excellence in education, CLLAS is one of the oldest programs of its kind and part of Wayne State’s continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
CLLAS’s mission is to transform Wayne State, and ultimately society, by providing equitable access to a quality education to students interested in U.S. Latino/a and Latin American cultural studies, while enhancing diversity on campus.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Esquivel said. “It opened the door to an education for so many young people who wouldn’t normally get this sort of opportunity. It’s important for people like my nephew, Michael, to know what their roots are. It’s still giving opportunities to young people and then those people get the chance to interact with someone like Michael, who is a third-generation Wayne State student.”
Education was always important to the Esquivel family; her father was an autoworker, and it was important to him that his children attend college.
Esquivel went to Madonna College for two years before transferring to Wayne State. When she arrived, she didn’t see many other Latino students, so she jumped at the opportunity to join Latino en Marcha.
“The original purpose of the program was to bring in people who never had an opportunity to go to college,” Esquivel said. “It was a door for people who were maybe already working in factories or other fields, but never had a chance to go to college. Students, who maybe their parents couldn’t afford it, or it just wasn’t an option for them. This program was designed to open doors for them. They wanted to get some folks who were already attended Wayne State, to help the incoming students. That’s why they recruited my brother and I.”
Esquivel earned a degree in Spanish from the Wayne State and helped Latino en Marcha grow.
“When we graduated, the program had a huge party for us and it was wonderful because a lot of the people from the community came and saw what we were able to accomplish,” Esquivel said. “Wayne State’s program has been a huge shot and injection for the Latino community. It opened doors for so many young people in southwest Detroit. The whole point of the program was to bring in blue-collar workers and get them to get into college.
"They also wanted to give them the skills that they needed to succeed at Wayne State. It was huge for so many people. It really was a miracle for so many. Latino en Marcha means the ‘Latinos are marching.’ And with this program, they’re marching forward with all the tools they need to succeed in college. And in return, they also serve the community. I became a teacher, others became directors or coordinators of Latino service agencies and many went into service oriented careers.”
Esquivel worked for the LA SED (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development) Library. She later earned her master’s and worked in bilingual education for Detroit Public Schools and Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy as principal of the middle school and then the first principal of the high school.
For the last 10 years, she has taught Spanish at Wayne County Community College District.
Esquivel’s son, Rene Alfonso Ramirez, attended Wayne State and earned a degree in occupational therapy. He works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in California. Amanda Esquivel Salo, Benny's daughter and Michael's cousin, earned her doctorate at WSU in Biomedical Engineering and was also a professor at Wayne State.
“For my family, it hasn’t always been easy; it’s been a struggle to live the American dream,” Esquivel said. “But through education and thanks to schools like Wayne State, my family has reached some great feats in this country. If it wasn’t for the Latino en Marcha program, I likely wouldn’t have been able to succeed at Wayne State. It’s tough to go to college, it’s not easy. But I feel blessed. I feel blessed for everything that’s happened for our family, and I’m very happy to see Michael succeeding.”
Ramirez is proud his family has been a part of CLLAS since the beginning, and he believes there are major benefits available to all of the current members.
“If you take a class that the center endorses, you can be eligible for scholarships,” Ramirez said. “You can get different textbook scholarships and you get other opportunities, like becoming an employee of the university. That’s how I got started doing peer mentoring for the center. When I was a freshman and sophomore, I had a mentor; now, I’m a mentor. Having someone who can point you in the right direction for things like financial aid, registration or tutoring is great. They can tell you about different classes they had or the right way to study. Being a part of that was huge for me, and others should really take advantage of it.”
Ramirez came to Wayne State for a variety of reasons, including to play football and be part of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College. He no longer plays football, but enjoys being part of the Honors College.
“When I was applying, I received an email about joining the Honors College and all the benefits, like pre-priority registration, a separate library, different advisors and the different opportunities the Honors College provides,” Ramirez said. “I meet with an Honors College advisor every semester. I took all my gen ed requirements in the Honors College, and those are some of the best professors that I've had. It’s been extremely advantageous for me. I would recommend joining for any student; there are so many benefits, and that pre-priority registration is huge.”
Ramirez is double majoring in marketing and finance. He is also a member of ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) at Wayne State.
“It's an organization for Latin American business students and a few other majors,” Ramirez said. “It's a national organization that a lot of major universities across the United States have. I'm kind of jump-starting the social media for it. I'm trying to promote it a little bit and get some other students interested from the center.”
Ramirez said his family and background is a huge part of who he is, and he feels at Wayne State he can honor both.
“I love to celebrate and embrace my cultural upbringing,” Ramirez said. “It’s important to have the opportunity to show who you are and where you come from, and to be proud of that. My great grandfather is a big source of motivation for me. It wasn’t easy for him when he was younger, but he lived to be 100 and was proud to see what our family was able to accomplish."
Esquivel said she couldn’t be prouder of Ramirez and knows he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.
“I’m so proud of Michael, and my dad, who just died this year at 100, he was so proud of Michael,” Esquivel said. “We were all bursting with joy when we heard Michael was going to Wayne State. And when Michael told me he was going into the Latino and Latin studies program, I danced because I was so excited. He’s a wonderful young man, very intelligent. His mom and dad did a wonderful job raising him.”
For more information on the Center for Latino/a and Latin America Studies, please visit https://las.wayne.edu.