Latin@ Summit Peaks Curiosity
Ella Presher ’14
On Friday April 4th and Saturday, April 5th, SI hosted the fifth annual Latin@ Youth Summit, the West Coast's largest conference of Latino students. This year's theme, "Reel Talk: Challenging Media Stereotypes," attracted students, teachers, and parents from SI and schools all over California for a series of keynote speakers, workshops, and discussion groups. Eduardo Valencia '14, co-president of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) at SI, described the mission of the summit, saying, "Our culture perpetuates stereotypes that lead to the wrongful and harmful generalization of entire peoples, cultures, and ways of life. This summit is important not just for Latinos, but for all youth, to develop a lens that can not only make people conscious of these stereotypes but also be courageous enough to challenge them."
Keynote addresses included the internationally known performer Rita Moreno, the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, Michael Benitez, Jr., and Favianna Rodriguez, an interdisciplinary artist and cultural organizer. In response to the themes presented by these luminaries discussions were lively.
Nelly Gonzalez '14, another co-president of ALAS, explained, "At SI, it hasn't always been easy to express my true identity." Eduardo dovetailed that sentiment saying, "The 'you got into “x” school because of affirmative action' claim is the most frustrating. It completely discredits the amount of hard work that not just I, but other students of color have put in to overcome their barriers, to overcome adversity,and to finally reach success. To devalue our achievements and claim we are solely successful for the 'race card' is to turn a blind eye to the gifts and talents that we, and everyone, possess."
Prof. Cafasso maintains that for Latino Americans there is a “struggle born out of [the] constant pulling-apart” of two cultural identities. They do not fit in the boxes society has constructed.
One famously talented woman has words of encouragement for those facing limiting stereotypes. Rita Moreno, one of very few people to win a Tony, Grammy, Emmy and Oscar, is most well-known for her Academy Award-winning role of Anita in the movie adaption of West Side Story. Ms. Moreno addressed her personal experience with the typical Hollywood Latina stereotype and advised, "Don't let anyone interfere with your dreams...because you really do have value." Education, she explained, is a gift because it enables us to have self-respect. We have to remember that even when others call us names because of our orientation or gender or the color of our skin, we still have value and must see ourselves as worthy of respect. Her journey opened doors for Latino American youth of today, but, in her eloquent words, “The most important part of living is that you like yourself," and this attitude will open the most doors of all.
Nelly elaborates on the goal of the conference: it encourages us to "become agents of change, improving our communities. Not only is this summit relevant to Latin@ students, it encourages everyone to be aware of the single story that media is capable of telling."
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