Xavier Murillo in the Andes Mountains
Xavier Murillo interned in Chile over the summer—and got the chance to hike the Andes Mountains.

5 questions with…La Alianza President, senior Xavier Murillo

Xavier Murillo has a passion for stories.

He’s not a writer by trade; numbers are more his forte (he’s a senior accounting major who just interned for the Chilean Ministry of Finance). But hearing people’s stories—and sharing his own—drives Murillo.

After moving from Central California to Alabama in high school, Murillo went from a predominantly Mexican community to one in which he was among four Latinos in his entire school. So he took that opportunity to listen to—and understand—the perspectives of different people in his new home.

“Moving across the country really showed me a different narrative,” he said. “Something I really enjoyed was learning about different people and learning about myself through them.”

When Murillo came to Case Western Reserve as a first-year student in 2013, he struggled to adjust to campus life. So he sought out people whose stories might resonate with him.

“There wasn’t a very strong Latino community or strong presence,” Murillo remembered. “But when I started meeting my fellow Latinos, there was a shared understanding of our experiences. We would get together and talk, and we realized this need for a greater awareness of our culture on campus.”

So Murillo became involved in La Alianza, then a relatively small organization for Latino students. He also became a resident assistant, in hopes that he could share his experiences with students so they could grow from hearing his stories and reflecting on their own.

By meeting other Latinos on campus, Murillo did his own self-reflection and, in his words, “better connected with [his] roots.” A first-generation Mexican-American and the first in his family to go to college, Murillo thinks often of his parents’ journey to the U.S. and their agricultural community in California—“and all the struggles and sacrifices they made to get me to where I am today.”

This powerful connection he made with his peers spurred Murillo and others to determine and strengthen the future of La Alianza so it better reflected the needs and presence of Latino students at Case Western Reserve.

Each year, he’s taken on increasing responsibilities and leadership roles in the organization—from treasurer as a sophomore to vice president as a junior and now president as a senior. The organization has grown significantly in just four years—both in terms of size and impact.

Through La Alianza, Murillo works to create a social and academic support network for Latino students, serve the Greater Cleveland community, and celebrate and raise awareness of Latino culture across Case Western Reserve.

The organization teamed up with other campus groups, including the faculty/staff Alianza Latina/Latino Alliance, to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The month (Sept. 15–Oct. 15) offers a full schedule of events (PDF) ranging from art shows to film screenings to nationally recognized speakers. Tomorrow night, La Alianza hosts Gala Latina, a formal dinner with speakers and awards, to honor Latino culture and accomplishments. On Tuesday, Princeton University faculty member Brian Herrera will present on “The Presence (and Absence) of Latinos in U.S. Popular Entertainment.” And on Oct. 14—the event Murillo is looking forward to most—poet, actor and speaker Carlos Andres Gomez will discuss masculinity in Latino culture.

Having these speakers and events on campus is just another way in which Murillo works to ensure stories from the Latino community are heard, and students can feel comfortable and confident expressing themselves.

“Seeing a reflection of my story in other people really made me think about how there are many of us going through similar journeys of figuring out college by ourselves,” he said. “As a community, we can mentor each other during our undergraduate career and as we transition into life after college. I think it is also important that alumni stay connected and give back to our community.”

Read more about Murillo’s story in this week’s 5 questions.

1. Who has been your most influential mentor?

I’ve found many mentors in my time here, but one of the most influential has been Hiram Cortez (CWR ’15), who was president of La Alianza two years ago. Hiram really helped shape my undergraduate experience in better understanding myself and pushed me to take on different leadership opportunities.

I’ve learned so much about my own identity, the spectrum of Latino experiences, the importance of community, of empowerment, of mentorship, and of giving back. To this day, he still challenges me to reach higher and follow my dreams.

2. What was your first job?

My mom says I’ve always been a businessperson—ever since I was a child. When I was young, I’d grab the clothes as she was hanging them to dry, and I’d put them in a bag and resell them to my family members. My dad also used to work in a packing house and I would often sell extra fruit around the neighborhood.

Once I got to campus, though, I guess my “real” jobs started. I worked in the CWRU call center my freshmen year. I later started working as a department assistant in University Relations and Development, and also became an RA [resident assistant].

3. Who is your favorite author?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have a favorite author; I’ve always loved books that give insight into different people’s lives though.

4. How do you like to spend your time when you’re away from school and/or work?

I really enjoy just spending time with family and friends. Being so far away from home, I don’t get to see my family as often as I’d like, so I always try to make the most of the time I do get with them.

I’m always up for trying something new, making new experiences and making new friends.  One of the most fun things I’ve done is sandboarding in the desert! Whatever I’m doing, and whoever I’m with, I’m always laughing and trying to enjoy my life to the fullest.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

What I like the most about Case Western Reserve is that because of the size of the university, there are so many opportunities to get to know a lot of people and build different communities. Through my involvement with La Alianza, I’ve been able to meet and learn so much about the different cultural organizations on campus. These organizations are so full of passionate and driven students who have really played a big role in making this my home.

Being a first-year RA, one of the most exciting things is helping make CWRU home for so many new students. There is a lot of learning that can be done outside of the classroom, and I always try to push my residents to connect with their identities and their interests and to find their passion on campus.

Everyone has a unique and different story to tell that we can all learn something from. I think it’s really important that we all try to listen to one another, and embrace the differences that help define us.