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Latina Leaders Summit encourages thoughtful, diverse discourse on important issues

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Latina and Latino leaders sit on a stage talking with a large backdrop of The Hill's logoWritten by: Marissa Kurtz, Grant Coordinator and Olivia Garcia, Ph.D., Public Policy and Training Manager, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@Network

On July 25, 2019, national news organization The Hill hosted its third annual Latina Leaders Summit to discuss both the historic wins for Latinas across all levels of government in last year’s midterm elections and issues surrounding this underrepresented demographic group in the U.S. government and the private sectors.  Latina leaders from around the country connected across industry sectors to speak on emerging issues affecting their communities and methods of lifting up future generations to succeed.

The event began with a bipartisan lineup of speakers who gave their insight on collaborating across party lines. Representative Nanette Barragán (D-CA) shared her experience working with Republicans colleagues during a visit to the southern border. She recounted her discussions with her colleagues and Border Patrol agents about expanding the definition of immediate family. This understanding allowed them to begin working together to find solutions for families in Border Patrol custody. “Try[ing] to find common ground,” she said, was the first step in this situation to work together to begin creating positive change.

When building policy, to create positive change, many speakers mentioned the importance of bringing empathy into these conversations. Representative Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) spoke about her work to connect political leaders to the people they serve. After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, González-Colón brought 115 members of Congress to the island in order for them to understand first-hand the storm’s aftermath and impact.

Across party lines, speakers agreed on approaching their work from an advocacy perspective. Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA) affirmed that as public servants, “we are representatives [of the people, and] politicians on the side.”

Throughout the summit, speakers emphasized the ways leaders can support rising generations to succeed. Nanette Barragán and Dr. Cecilia Aragon, Director of Human-Centered Data Science Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, spoke about growing up Latina and navigating spaces as a racial and ethnic minority. Both Barragán and Aragon mentioned mentorship as an important factor that encouraged them to take risks, persevere, and become trailblazers in their respective fields. Dr. Aragon said that “it only takes one person to counter low expectations” when sharing her story of dealing with systems and people that discouraged her pursuit of a STEM career. Leaders in the technology panel emphasized the need to train young people in creative solutions to social problems. The panelists agreed that studying engineering is valuable, but so is emphasizing the need for “soft-skills” like collaboration, communication, innovative-thinking and understanding cultural differences. The combination of hard and soft skills will help ensure that Latin@s have jobs in the future.

The event ended with a heated exchange of ideas from delegates Elizabeth Guzman (D-VA), Hala Ayala (D-VA), and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) about partisan politics. All three Latinas agreed that there is a need for immigration reform, but delegates Guzman and Ayala asked the audience to keep in mind that when we are discussing immigration reform, we are talking about human beings who should be treated with dignity. We cannot lose sight of our humanity and must embrace the diversity of experiences immigrants bring to the United States was their overall message. Assemblywoman Malliotakis emphasized the need for process and for all immigrants to follow the proper entrance and visa procedures. Their contrasting political views highlight the diversity of thought found within Latin@s who are clearly not a monolithic group but rather have vast intra-group differences. This discussion ended with a call for current and future leaders across industry sectors to speak up and advocate for their communities.

The overall sentiment of the Latina Leaders Summit that most resonated with both of us was from Sindy Benavides, CEO of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). She said to rising leaders in the room to “harness your potential,” and to recognize that “every one of us has the responsibility to be the ears and heart of the community.” Casa de Esperanza strives to serve and contribute to the Latin@ community by providing resources, trainings, research and being an advocate for families who can live free of violence.

Casa de Esperanza looks forward to continue participating in these important conversations.

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