Latina Sorority ‘Phi’nally Arrives

By Samantha Arellano

UC Irvine is a well-known Asian-dominated community, the ethnicity making up 50 percent of the school’s overall undergraduate student population. While there are numerous other cultures and ethnic groups on campus, many are not represented as fully as that of the Asian community.  Other races and ethnicities individually make up less than 22 percent of UCI’s undergraduate population.

The Hispanic and Latino community  makes up only 15 percent of UCI’s undergraduates. While it is the third-largest represented ethnicity, there are still a limited number of Latino groups to be found within UCI. Slowly, but surely, though, we have been able to see more Hispanic organizations beginning to grow on campus.

Of these, and possibly the newest, is the Latina oriented sorority known as Phi Lambda Rho. Not your average sorority, these ladies strive to encourage empowerment for both women and Latinos alike. Established in Cal State Stanislaus in 1993, the sorority is Chicana/Latina-based, and contains six chapters throughout California. It strives to satisfy four objectives: academic excellence, community service, sisterhood and culture awareness. Each chapter looks to fulfill each objective in their own unique ways.

The Zeta chapter of the sorority was established on UCI campus this past May, although it took three years of hard work, beginning as a campus club known as FLOR (Feminine Leaders in Outreach for La Rasa), evolving into an interest group, until finally becoming established as Phi Lambda Rho.

“[We wanted to] create a family away from home; something that we felt wasn’t on campus already,” said sorority member Laura Ulloa.

Coming onto the UCI campus with such a large Asian community, some admitted that they felt a serious sense of culture shock. Especially since many came  from areas with larger Hispanic populations.

“When you walk around Ring Road you never see Latinas,” said Erika Santacruz, Phi Lambda Rho’s president. “For example, I never got a flier for a Latina sorority, but I always saw other ethnic groups passing out flyers. [We wanted] to give other Latinas on campus options, because there aren’t that many options for Latinas to get involved. There’s not really a strong Latina presence on campus.”

With that in mind, the ladies of Phi Lambda Rho, also known as Rhos or Rhosas, became established on campus, and made it their goal to inspire women empowerment amongst Chicanas.

“We don’t want to be looked upon as a stereotypical Latina woman that is uneducated and that is just going to be a housewife,” said Phi Lambda Rho member Yesenia Vallejo. “Personally, I just want to do something my family, my mom or my sister couldn’t do: go to college, be educated, have a job and be independent.”

Though they focused on striving to become female leaders within their Hispanic culture, they did not limit their philanthropic activities strictly to women within their ethnicity, but for women in general. They participated in community services such as Cinderella for Life, a group that helps girls who cannot afford prom. They helped to pick out prom outfits while boosting the girls’ self-esteem. Phi Lambda also hosted a campus-wide professional clothes drive to go towards women who were victims of abuse or recently found sobriety within an addiction to prepare them for job interviews to get back into the work force with Working Wardrobe. The Rhos also place an emphasis on collaborating with other Latino organizations on campus to increase the Latino presence.

“It’s not just about us,” said member Elizabeth Lopez, “it’s the bigger picture — just showing as a minority what we can do.”

They also focus on issues that are related to their culture and ethnicity, bringing awareness upon what many do not see. They held an awareness booth, started by the Phi Lambda Rho philanthropy chair and cultural awareness chair, Denise León, to magnify an issue in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico where there have been hundreds of female homicides since 1993. The ladies created a display board labeled “Mujeres de Juarez” that held hearts for all the women, and helped to create an awareness of the issue on campus.

“[We] try to inform everyone about issues with immigration, the Dream Act, discrimination, racism against our own people,” said Vallejo. “I feel that that’s what brings us together and makes us different from other sororities, and that’s a strong foundation we have that we want to envision within other Latinas.”

Though this is their first year as an official sorority, the ladies of Phi Lambda Rho have begun to leave their mark on campus and place an emphasis on Latino culture.

“There’s a greater population of Latinos [now], we want to make sure they know that we’re here … and that we’re here to stay,” said Lopez. “Things are about to change … in a good way.”