Proyecto Pa’lante Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The photos (right) in various picture frames sitting on a blue table cloth depicted the history of Proyecto Pa'lante from its beginnings in 1972.
Guests signed their names (left) on items they wished to bid on during the silent auction. (Gabriel Gurrola)

Proyecto Pa’Lante, a program designed to aid freshmen students at NEIU who are from or are interested in learning about Latino communities, celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 12, 2024.

The event featured five keynote speakers, the founders Guiterrez and del Valle, Proyecto Pa’Lante alums Jaime Delgado, Maria Barajas and 26th Ward Alderperson Jessie Fuentes.

Proyecto Pa’Lante was founded in September 1972 by then-NEIU students Luis V. Gutierrez and Miguel del Valle, as well as the Union for Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) and the NEIU Division of Student Affairs for Latino Students with the goal of promoting college access and success to Latino communities in Chicago.

Guiterrez, who appeared remotely from Puerto Rico due to scheduling conflicts, gave insight to how he and del Valle helped create Proyecto Pa’Lante, “We created a fund and a union for Puerto Rican students that raised tens of thousands of dollars so that we could give the students that would say, ‘I don’t have car-fare. How do I get to school? I don’t have money for books.’ We would always have money for car-fare and for books and for money for the first month to get them on their feet.”

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“Even though the resistance was tremendous back then, we were aggressive, but we had to be because we needed those doors to open up.” del Valle said about the implementation of Proyecto Pa’Lante despite resistance from the NEIU administration. “As a legislator, one of the first things I did when becoming state senator was, as part of the Senate of Higher Education Committee, was to sponsor legislation to open those doors [and] to increase Latino enrollment throughout the entire state.”

Delgado, part of the first group of Proyecto Pa’Lante students, detailed how students from diverse backgrounds at NEIU collaborated on creating organizations that would benefit Latino students.

Delgado said, “These students who were here who were already a part of the community struggle for civil rights… and the Puerto Rican students who came here from Puerto Rico who believed in self determination… worked together to [create] UPRS, Que Ondee Sola and Proyecto Pa’Lante.”

“Proyecto Pa’Lante [made me] believe in the possibility of providing a better future for my family despite all the challenges I was facing,” Barajas said, who graduated from NEIU with a bachelor’s degree in General Business Administration in December 2023, detailing how the program gave her hope for the future amid a series of challenges, “It opened the doors for so many opportunities, it’s how I was able to apply for [a] job at Amazon.”

Alderperson Fuentes highlighted how some Proyecto Pa’Lante students went on to make a difference in Chicago, “[This] is the program that has sent the first Latino senator to Springfield, [this] is the program that elected Luis Guiterrez to Congress, [this] is the program that sent the first Latina to represent the 26th Ward in Humboldt Park.”

Alderperson Fuentes shared her hope and optimism for the next generation of students in the program, “I look forward to the next 50 years of Proyecto Pa’Lante and producing the next 26th Ward Alderperson, the next US Congressman, the next Senator, and one day, the President of this very country because it is here in this space with a program like Proyecto Pa’Lante that magic happens.”

Guiterrez and del Valle received plaques for their leadership and advocacy throughout their storied careers. The event also launched the Guiterrez and del Valle Endowment Fund, which will help NEIU students finance their education.

A silent auction was also held for guests with the goal of creating additional funds for the Proyecto Pa’Lante scholarship. Some of the items up for grabs included a Virgen de Guadalupe image, artisan made jewelry and a Frida Kahlo wallet.

For students to participate in Proyecto Pa’Lante, freshman students must be admitted NEIU students and indicate Proyecto Pa’Lante as their success program of their choice on their Intent to Enroll form.

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