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Yoana Reyes-Zapata ’24 celebrates Hispanic heritage as president of HOLA

Yoana Reyes-Zapata ’24 (left) with Denisse Castro-Rivera ’25 (center) and Elda Enriquez ’26 (right) at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month in 2022

Coming to Furman was “kind of a culture shock” for Yoana Reyes-Zapata ’24, who grew up in a largely Hispanic community in Berea in Greenville County with parents who came to the United States from Mexico as children and whose stepfather came from Guatemala. Before college, she attended Legacy Early College, a charter school where most students were Black and Hispanic.

“Being in a predominantly white institution was really a different experience than what I was used to,” Reyes-Zapata said, “not being able to fit in as I always did before in school or around town.”

It didn’t help that she started in the spring semester, missing the usual socializing and new friendships among first-year students in the fall. And then there was the forced isolation of the pandemic.

“We were all stuck in our rooms, and I never really got the chance to talk to people,” said Reyes-Zapata, a communication studies major in the media studies track who is double-minoring in film studies and Latin American and LatinX studies.

When she did get the chance, she found a welcoming campus with “a lot of people wanting to learn about my background – not only learning more about my culture, but how to respect it,” she said. She also found some fellow Legacy Early College alums, who introduced her to the Hispanic Outreach and Latinx Awareness (HOLA) student organization.

“I got to meet other Latin American students who happen to be of different ethnicities, such as Salvadorians and Costa Ricans and people of Afro-Latino descent,” she said. “Growing up in Berea, among mostly Mexican Americans, I’d never really gotten to learn about their cultures before.”

This year, Reyes-Zapata is serving as president of HOLA. At the start of Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 15, the organization hosted “Cenar y Celebrar” (Spanish for “Dine and Celebrate”), an event with food and music on the Trone Student Center front patio.

“In the Hispanic community, a lot of people share their love by cooking and sharing food,” said Reyes-Zapata. “So, that’s the one thing that we wanted to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month with, just showing our love to our students and our members.”

She’s also a member of the First-Generation Student Alliance (FGSA), joining other students who are the first in their families to attend college. And as a specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves, she’s frequently called up for exercises or training.

After Furman, Reyes-Zapata may stay with the military and become a drill instructor or she may pursue sports reporting, which she’s taking a course in.

“The good thing is I know that there are a lot of different tracks,” she said. “I could pursue a lot of different things.”

Article by Jerry Salley '90, Senior Writer
Last updated September 22, 2022
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