Spotlight Story

06 September 2023

Daniel López Salas: Ensuring Food Security and Representation for Latinos

Category: Spotlight Story

Food, culture, and representation are deeply intertwined. As a Health Educator at the University of California at Riverside, Daniel López Salas knows firsthand how important it is to advocate for the health-related factors that impact the student community on campus. When it comes to undocumented students, food insecurity and lack of representation were one of the prevalent issues. To help with this, Daniel, along with other former students and colleagues, decided to take the lead of a food pantry dedicated to undocumented folks.

“I used to be part of an organization called Poder, which is the undocumented and allied student group at UC Riverside. A lot of students -a lot of my friends- who are or were undocumented at the time talked about how difficult it was to feed themselves oftentimes. Not only did they have to feed themselves, but also send money back to their families.”

After a friend approached him and asked if he would be interested in taking over a food pantry, he gladly accepted.

“I saw it as this mission of supporting people who went through this experience, or who are going through this experience to make things a little bit easier for them while in higher education.”

That commitment has driven Daniel to continue his career focusing on student affairs, policy, and conversations around representation, food, and privilege. For a lot of folks, it’s not only about having food around but also culturally relevant food. That way, according to Daniel, ties grow stronger among members of the same community.

“The types of foods that you have access to can determine your health outcomes. I grew up eating tortillas, so if I go to a food pantry, I expect to see tortillas, frijoles, or similar food on a campus like ours that is culturally diverse. I wanted to replicate that. I wanted to have spices, rice, and things that people would recognize. Food that not only gets you the energy to keep studying but also connects you to the community.”

After completing the Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP) with Hispanic Access Foundation in 2016, he helped run the food pantry professionally for about four years. Then, he moved to health education in his current position on campus. Shortly after completing his internship with Hispanic Access Foundation, he and other fellow interns worked on a cultural preservation project with the organization. The report, called Place, Story, and Culture, aimed at creating a list of culturally relevant sites for Latinos in hopes of recognizing them and bringing awareness for historic and cultural preservation.

“We spent some time gathering information and cross-referencing data on areas that we thought were particularly important to Latino history, that we thought were important to preserve across the US, from California to Mexico, to Texas and New York.”

As part of his work, Daniel helped draft a proposal to preserve an area inside Chautauqua Park, in Boulder, Colorado.
“It was the site of a bombing of high school and college-age Chicano students during the Chicano movement. There is a plaque for these kids, but it's not in the town or in the place where it happened. So, the idea was to bring that down and mark the actual site of where this occurred.”

Daniel had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in this year’s Latino Advocacy Week, where he spoke about his experience on the internship site.

“There were folks from different internship programs; I think I was the only one that was part of the Latino Heritage Internship Program. We talked about ways that the federal government can better be involved in hiring Latinos, so we’re better represented in federal agencies. Specifically, agencies that focus on conservation and historic preservation, whether that's national parks or cultural sites.”

The importance of having those experiences is insightful, as it shines a light on how these internship programs close the gap for Latinos in the federal government.

“What we did was highlight the importance of these internship programs for increasing diversity for federal agencies. They need to prioritize programs like these and expand their capacity and funding.”

For Daniel, it is crucial to understand the legacy of the work that has been done in the past, in hopes of opening more doors for less privileged folks.

“Honoring that work and ensuring that future generations can enjoy a life that is worthy of that labor that's made it possible. We want future generations to have it better. I think leadership, in my context, it's been very similar to that…the goal and the vision in the future is that next generation, those future generations, as they're coming in through the doors. Whether that's at our university or out at national parks or forests. They need to feel at home, feel welcomed, feel seen, and they feel celebrated for their accomplishment of getting there.”


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Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society.

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