I walked into the Kellogg Conference Center and Hotel a few minutes after 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. After registering, I entered the conference room and immediately noticed the shops. They sold traditional beaded bracelets, colorful textiles, leather bags, calaveras and bright jewelry. As I held the bracelets in my hands and admired their craftsmanship, I felt transported to the Mercado de Artesanías in Antigua, Guatemala.
After a few more minutes, I set my coat down, took a seat and quietly observed the crowd until the conference began.
As I watched, I noticed each person who walked through the entrance experienced the same feelings I had felt. And as we gathered together in the large conference room, I felt as though a new community had been built, or, at least, it was a community I had not seen since arriving at MSU.
After a half-hour, the conference began with women’s and gender studies junior Michelle Garibaldi making her opening remarks. She was the conference chair, and she was thanking us all for coming to the 28th annual Dia de la Mujer conference.
Día de la Mujer is an annual Latina empowerment and leadership conference hosted by the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions and Culturas de las Razas Unidas, or CRU. CRU focuses on building a community of Latinas here on campus.
Although I am a Latina, I was there for one reason, to write my article. I had not taken the time to consider since Dia de la Mujer, or DDLM, was meant to impact Latinas; it might be impacting me too.
When Garibaldi finished her opening remarks, and the event was officially underway, I realized I had never felt this comfortable covering an event before. I realized I was not just covering an empowerment event; I was its target audience.
So, although I was there for professional reasons, I decided it could become personal for me, too, and I decided to lean into it.
The first event on the agenda was a panel on the “State of Latinx Women in Michigan.” During the forum, panelists Poppy Sias-Hernandez, Consuela Barber-Lopez and Eva Garza Dewaelsche discussed the economic and social power Latinas hold in Michigan in 2022. The women also discussed their own experiences as Latinas in positions of power.
After the panel, it was time for the first workshop cycle. For each workshop, attendees chose which one they would attend from the list of six or seven. We made our way to our selected workshop’s room to discuss topics such as education, law, family, interpersonal relationships, self-empowerment and health.
Many workshops also discussed anti-racism, inclusion and generational trauma, all topics related to this year’s theme: “El Sol Que Deshace El Nudo: Ardiendo Nuevas Raíces,” or “The Sun That Undoes the Knot: Burning New Roots.” Garibaldi said the theme was all about changing the narrative surrounding generational trauma in the Latinx community.
“Growing up as Latinos, we always face the generational traumas, and (they're) always being passed down,” Garibaldi said. “We wanted to involve this theme this year about changing that … but, also, we wanted to acknowledge our ancestors for all the things they've done for our community, and now that we're here, in this time ... (the conference) is mostly revolving around changing those generational traumas and becoming better for the future and for our generation.”
So, in accordance with the theme, I chose the workshop titled “Bursting the Imposter-Syndrome Bubble: Intersecting Spaces, Ideas, and Experiences,” and, for the next hour, I felt seen in a way I never have before on the MSU campus.
Listening to the speakers, I realized I was not alone. Everything I had felt in my life and while at MSU — inadequacy in my own identity and in my spaces — was felt by the women who surrounded me. I clung to every word the speakers said, and I held back tears.
I do not wish to generalize, but I truly think everyone left that room holding their heads a little higher than before. One of the speakers, student affairs administration graduate student Jeanie Maidona felt the impact her words had on the attendees and on herself.
“I think what I like about presenting at this conference is that it feels more helpful,” Maidona said. “It feels more like a community, of who I'm talking to, and who I'm empowering, and what support system we build together. That's what's different with presenting here versus any other place.”
After this workshop, I attended a second one. Then, we all returned to the main conference room for lunch.
During lunch, the DDLM planning committee honored the winner of this year’s Maria Zavala Award, Linda Delgado Kipp. Each year, the MZA is awarded to a Latina who has demonstrated a commitment to progressing Latin women in their community. After Delgado Kipp’s acceptance speech, the committee also honored last year’s winner, Maria G Van Core, since last year’s DDLM was online.
Next came the speech from the key-note speaker, Jacqueline Camacho-Ruiz, a Latina author and entrepreneur. As I listened to Camacho-Ruiz share her story of resilience and authenticity, I saw the room transform. Several people pulled out their phones to film her; they wanted to save and share her words.
Camacho-Ruiz’s speech lit a fire under every attendee, especially the next performer, Candace Oceania Cavazos, who read some of her original poems. She said listening to the previous speakers, like Camacho-Ruiz, and being surrounded by Latinx women all day had prepared her for her own performance.
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“The things that I learn every single time I get to sit in a room with other women, especially women who are older than me (are invaluable),” Cavazos said. “Even the guest key-note speaker; hearing her testimony (was) just so powerful, and then even the women I got to sit at the table with — just being at lunch with other women, and having food together, and talking at the table — I learned all kinds of stuff.”
So when it came time for her to perform original poems about her experiences as a woman, Cavazos was ready.
“Every time I'm given the opportunity to get on the mic, especially at a conference like this, I just feel so validated and empowered by my community,” Cavazos said. “I just hope that I can do the same thing for everyone else by saying what I say on the mic and bringing my energy to the table because that's how everybody makes me feel when I get up there.”
And she did. Cavazos’ words and the words of all the other women who spoke that day resonated with me and other attendees, like Maidona.
“I think what I really took away (from today) is the pride and honor to be who I am and remembering that,” Maidona said. “When I leave the Kellogg … there's still not going to be people who I feel like resemble who I am, who look like me. But remembering this experience and showing there is a huge community rooting for you, who’s saying, ‘you can do it,’ — that's what we're here for.”
Similar to Maidona, I left the DDLM different than I had arrived. With a newfound sense of confidence and assurance in my identity, I remembered what Garibaldi had told me about how she felt after her first DDLM one year ago.
“From the keynote speakers (to the) workshop presenters, being able to commemorate the hard work Latinas have put into the community was wonderful to see,” Garibaldi said. “I left inspired and motivated to step forward and make change happen in my community one way or another.”
The inspiration Garibaldi described was exactly what I felt on Saturday, and it’s exactly how I have felt in the days since then. It is safe to say that I left DDLM with much more than an article; I left with a community.
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