As Latino Greek- letter organizations (LGLOs) continue to spread across campuses, two questions continue to arise: Who are Latino Greeks? And where did they come from? With over 30 nationally recognized organizations, and many more recognized locally, questions of the origin of LGLOs remain unknown to some and a debate to others.
Latino Greek- letter organizations found their inception within student clubs at two different universities. In 1898 a student club under the name of Union Hispano Americana was formed at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY. In 1919 the organization was transformed to a Latino Greek- letter fraternity when it merged with Pi Delta Phi (founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1916) and Phi Lambda Alpha (founded at the University of California Berkeley in 1919). With the merger the organization became to be known as Phi Lambda Alpha, choosing Latin American students as members.
While at Louisiana State University, Sociedad Hispano Americana was formed in 1904 as a secret society for Spanish- American Students. In 1911 the organization became Sigma Iota, a Greek-letter fraternity with the purpose of promoting friendship and to aid Spanish-American students. Its membership extended through the United States at: Louisiana State University, Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans and University of Florida. Later adding the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University), Syracuse University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Atlanta Medical School, University of Pennsylvania, with additional chapters in Belgium, Switzerland and Guatemala City.
As Sigma Iota found itself with an increasing number of dormant chapters, Phi Lambda Alpha continued to expand. Numerous communication efforts began between both organizations. Together with the mission to maintain their Latino heritage, while expanding, they decided to merge. In 1931 Phi Lambda Alpha and Sigma Iota became one to form Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity Inc., known today as the First Latino Fraternity. Both organizations believed the ideology of Pan-Americanism, the goal to unify all Latin American Nations and its people. Today, Phi Iota Alpha continues to educate and strive towards a federal union of the twenty-one Latin American countries.
Due to its atypical formation, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has Five Pillars, not founders. These individuals Simon Bolivar (El Liberator (The Liberator) great general whose victories won the independence of Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela from Spain), Jose de San Martin (General who led the liberation of his nation Argentina, as well as Peru and Chile from Spain), Bernardo O’Higgins (Partook in the liberation of Chile along with Jose de San Martin and became the supreme director of Chile once freed), Benito Juarez (Mexican National hero and leader who assisted in establishing Mexico as a constitutional democracy) and Jose Marti (poet and Cuban freedom fighter).
Phi Iota Alpha continue to expand in the United States, however it wasn’t until the 1970’s that we saw further growth of the LGLO community. With the influx of Latinos in higher education, institutions found themselves amending the curriculum to fit the needs of this new population. Although changes were being made for the good, there was still a gap where support and equality were missing. Undergoing a double charge of this change were Latinas. In addition to the integration in higher education, Latinas were now assuming a new role. Until this point, Latinas solely played the role of maintaining the family. With the intent to voice their opinion unified, while integrating themselves socially and politically 17 women formed the first Latina Sorority. 1975 we witnessed the formation of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. at Kean University.
Membership in a Latino Greek- letter organization does not end after college graduation. LGLO members recognize the long term commitment they are making to the organization and to their heritage. As an effect of this leaders are molded. The system gave birth to four different Latin American Presidents (all Phi Iota Alpha members). Latino Greek- letter organizations continue to be an active part of the community. LGLOs assisted in the increase of Latino registered voters through educational workshops on campuses, as well as several registration events throughout the nation. They actively take a stand on immigration reforms, promote higher education by mentoring school aged students as well as providing scholarships, and improve their local area by assisting in community service.