Latinx Heritage Month keynote speaker Saul Flores encourages social change with his Walk of Immigrants project

Saul+Flores+smiling+in+front+of+a+wall+of+flowers.+He+is+wearing+a+black+t-shirt+and+a+hat.+His+name+is+written+beside+his+head+in+black+letters+against+a+blue+background.

Saul Flores, the keynote speaker for Latinx Heritage Month programming at Lafayette, spoke about raising money for a Mexican school by walking from Ecuador to North Carolina. (Courtesy of CampusSpeak)

Isabella Gaglione

Saul Flores was determined to walk not just one mile in his mother’s shoes, but 5,328.

On Monday, the Office of Intercultural Development welcomed Flores, a philanthropist and photojournalist, to speak about the Walk of Immigrants and other social impact projects via Zoom as the keynote speaker for the college’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

Flores was a first-generation college student when he embarked on a 5,328-mile walk from Ecuador to North Carolina for his Walk of Immigrants project. This is a journey that millions of Latin Americans like his mother undertake while immigrating to the United States.

The Walk of Immigrants was inspired by a series of visits that Flores took to his mother’s hometown of Atencingo, Mexico. Flores recalled spending time in a small cinder block building that served as the town’s elementary school, one that he would’ve attended if his mother hadn’t immigrated to the United States in the hopes of giving her future children a better education.

When Flores discovered that the school was going to be shut down, he made it his mission to save it.

“In an unexpected place, I discovered a community I was meant to serve,” Flores said.

His goals for the walk were to document his journey with his camera, sell the photos and use the proceeds to reconstruct the school and make it home alive.

While telling the story of his walk, Flores recounted the people he met along the way. He discussed a man who helped him attempt to cross the Darién Gap, a woman who healed him from dart frog venom and a Colombian official who prevented him from being kidnapped and held hostage by the guerilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia during the Colombian presidential election. Flores also recalled an encounter with an Indigenous man named Raymundo who helped him travel to Panama City and asked him to tell those in the U.S. that there are good people in Latin America.

Flores also shared his favorite photo, a shot from the day the Atencingo elementary school reopened.

In addition to speaking about the Walk of Immigrants, Flores discussed his experience growing up as the son of two immigrants in New York City. His mother left Mexico at 17 and his father came to the United States from El Salvador when he was 18.

He described a childhood memory from a Saturday morning where he watched his sister dance around the kitchen in a house that his mother was cleaning.

He realized then that all he needed was right in front of him.

Even at times when there was no food on the table, Flores explained, “I wasn’t feeling hunger. I was feeling love.”

Now a philanthropist and photojournalist, Flores shares his story at colleges across the country with the purpose of inspiring students to discover how they can make a difference in the world.

“Every person has a story to tell,” he said.

Flores encouraged participants to share stories of sacrifices that others had made for them. He made a point to thank the students in attendance by name at the end and gave out his personal phone number in case anyone had questions or ever needed someone to talk to.

His upcoming project, Love Walk, is a documentary that will tell the story of three young girls from Atencingo, his mother and The Walk of Immigrants project. Updates on the documentary will be shared on Flores’s Instagram account, @sweetlikesaul.