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A Vision for the Latinx Community at Davidson

“Me siento tan rejuvenecida con tanto amor, canto y risas este fin de semana.”  

(I feel so rejuvenated from so much love, song and laughter this weekend.)

I was fortunate and privileged enough to attend the Second Annual REAL Conference at Emory. The REAL Conference was founded by an astounding group of Latina undergraduate students who were inspired by Harvard’s Latina Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Conference to create an empowering space for Latinas at Emory and within the larger Atlanta and Georgia community. Marlene Arellano, my wonderful mentor, a Davidson alumni, was planning on attending and invited me to tag along. After reading about the REAL Conference, I was allured by this student-organized event and registered that same day. As Winter Break ended and the second semester began, I looked forward to spending a weekend with my mentor and roommate, Mari Hernandez. Latinas, Empowerment, Jennicet Gutiérrez, Emory, Atlanta -I was ready.  

We packed our overnight bags and headed out early Friday afternoon. On the four-hour drive to Atlanta, we shared chisme and chistes (jokes and gossip), and sang along to Intocable and Maná. Upon arriving, we were wide-eyed and impressed at the picturesque campus and made our way past fraternity and sorority houses. Our wonderful host, Lisandra Perez, welcomed all three of us into her room and lovingly offered us her bed and blankets, scarves and hats for the brisk January weather, and shared with us her food and meal swipes. With the help of Latino students planted around campus to direct attendees, Marlene, Mari, and I made our way to the conference check-in. As we checked in, Esther Garcia and Jazmin Campos, the executive and co-executive director of the conference, excitedly welcomed us as were some of the few students who had traveled out of state to attend.  

The conference began with dinner, which was then followed by a welcome speech and performances. In between sessions, an intangible wave of joy and peace washed over me as I realized other Latinx students around me were immersed in their own Spanglish conversations. On Davidson’s campus, my roommate and I are the chismosas (gossipers) in the hallway who play loud banda music during the late afternoons. However, right then and there, everyone around me seemed like distant relatives I had not seen in a while. Conversations flowed and we naturally abandoned English and spoke Spanish in our imperfect way: with awkward acentos (accents) and homemade conjugations. Esther’s sentimental and honest welcome speech flooded me with a warm rush of emotions, she recognized and validated our struggles and talents. We Latinx students are here and we matter. She talked about the need for a Latinx students to have a comunidad and a casa, a community and home, especially in a predominantly white institution such as Emory. When the work, the English, the expectations, and our families are too much to handle, Latinx students need each other to survive, to preserve, and to excel. After thanking her impressive E-Board of Latina undergrad students, she pointedly referenced the presence of Latino students as assistants and aids to the conference to remind us that Latino men need to actively support and recognize the efforts and presence of Latinx people, and “because, you know, reparations.”  

Mari Hernandez, Cynthia Rodríguez, and Marlene Arellano

The performances that followed beautifully displayed the plurality of Latinidad at Emory, as Caribbean and Afro-Latinx students danced, others sang Mariachi, and one performed poetry about Puerto Rico. Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. represented Latin Greek life. We cheered, whistled, applauded, and cried for nuestras hermanas (our sisters). Afterwards, keynote speaker Georgia State Attorney Brenda Lopez finished off the day with a personal reflection of how her experiences growing up as a first generation and ESL student in the U.S. ultimately shaped and led her to start a political career. Attorney Lopez urged us to vote, encouraged our communities to vote, and to run for office, she assured us that the world needs more Latinx representation in office.  

By the end of the night, we realized that we too, Davidson too, are missing this comunidad and casa. Marlene, Mari and I apprehensively spent the night making a list of Latinx students on campus and much to our dismay we realized that we knew less than half of our list. Nos comportamos como extranjeros entre los pocos que somos. We act like strangers amongst the few that we are.  

The second day had several panel sessions around graduate school, research, careers, mental health, art, finances, and more. We attended the mental health session with panelists Alexis Lopez and Thalia Escobedo. They highlighted the added stress of ESL and first-generation students in higher education, the taboo in Latinx households around mental health, and general tips on how to maintain peace and stability in our lives through trying times. Our second session was led by Luisa Rivera, a current Emory student and TA in the Ph.D. Anthropology program. As an aspiring Anthropologist myself, Luisa’s passion for anthropological research and the Latinx community was so refreshing and motivating that I almost considered transferring in the hopes of attending one of her lectures (catch me in 2021 at Emory for my graduate, seriously). She was honest about being a Woman of Color within research and she encouraged us to finesse the system and bring to light the issues within our Latinx community.  

Jennicet Gutiérrez, an activist for transgender and immigrant rights 

The conference ended with the incredible keynote speaker, the transgender and immigrant activist Jennicet Gutiérrez. Jennicet shared with us her narrative of growing up as a trans Latina in the United States and the start and development of her career as an activist. She became nationally popular in 2015 when she disrupted former President Obama during a White House LGBTQ Pride event and demanded him to stop deportations and to remove Trans Women from deportation facilities. Despite receiving backlash, Jennicet’s brave and courageous resistance brings forth the reality of the Obama’s administration having the largest number of deportations and the narratives of Trans Latinx Women who face verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in deportation facilities. Jennicet was extremely relatable and humble, she is the embodiment of power and resistance, and she uplifts those around her. She ended her speech by having us all stand and proudly proclaim “Mi existir es resistir” or “My existence is resistance.” I tried extremely hard to not to fangirl, but alas there I was chillando (sobbing) in the back row.  

All I can say is, and Marlene said it best, “Me siento tan rejuvenecida con tanto amor, canto y risas este fin de semana.” I feel so rejuvenated with love, song, and laughter this weekend. Given my experiences at the REAL Conference, I cannot help but long for the same sense of comunidad y casa here at Davidson. In the midst of the trials and tribulations of Davidson, I ask, us, Latinx students to lean on one another. We must at the very least recognize and know one another. There is no room for el odio or la envidia (hate or jealousy) in our lives. Perhaps I am just lonely, but Latinx students of Davidson, I want to know you, where you are from, I want to support you and cheer you on porque eres familia, because you are family. We are deserving of our successes, we have a voice, somos poderosxs (we are powerful), so let’s come together and be the leading Chingonxs of the future. That weekend was full of familia, spanglish, sonrisas (smiles), tears, poder (power), and magic. When you gather excellence in a room, an embodiment of power occurs and you become poderosa (powerful). We the Latinx community at Davidson, let's be poderosxs and magical together. 


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