Conference Calls for Latina Solidarity

The question of how to strengthen ties among Latina women at Harvard was at the forefront of the inaugural Harvard College Latina Empowerment Conference held on Saturday. Organizers said it was the biggest gathering to discuss Latina issues ever held at Harvard.

Participants at the conference and its organizers, members of the Latinas Unidas student group, said Latino women at Harvard were in need of a stronger understanding of their opportunities in society and the business world. Some also suggested that Latinas at Harvard could use a stronger sense of community.

“Latinas are leaders all over campus, but they rarely come together to network or socialize,” said Bianca M. Caban ’09, the coordinator of the conference and president of Latinas Unidas.

Keynote speaker Isabel Londoño, the coordinator of the Women Caucus of the Colombian Congress, said institutions of higher learning such as Harvard were key in bringing together members of the country’s disparate Latina community.

“All these people have the same identity but experience it in a different way,” she said, speaking of Latinas, in an interview before her speech. Schools like Harvard, she went on, “help people find common ground.”

They are also important, Londoño said, in educating Latinas of their opportunities—“in helping them articulate their future action and strengthening everyone in their own individual pursuits.”

The day-long conference, according to its Web site, was “devoted to acknowledging the achievements of Latinas at Harvard and across the nation” and addressing “the social, political, and economic issues that Latinas confront today.” As of last fall, 238 Hispanic women were enrolled at the College, or about 3.5 percent of the student population.

Other participants at the conference included Noelia Rodriguez, a fellow at the Institute of Politics and the former press secretary to First Lady Laura Bush, as well as Romance languages professor Doris Sommer, the director of graduate studies in Spanish at Harvard.

In her speech, Sommer spoke of the need to embrace multiculturalism in the United States, and emphasized the value of bilingualism.

“Immigrants, because they know more than one language, are more flexible and creative than monolingual people expect,” she said in an interview after her speech. “Bilinguals always think outside the box because they have more than one box to think out of.”

Caban, the Latinas Unidas president, said she was already thinking ahead to future conferences, which will be held annually.

While this weekend’s gathering focussed broadly on Latina empowerment, she said she hoped next year’s conference would take up a more specific topic.

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