Latina Leaders Offer Motivation

Students gather to listen to successful professional panelists

Latina women from Harvard, local universities, and the surrounding community, in addition to others interested in issues facing Latinas, convened Saturday to discuss common concerns and learn skills for professional advancement at Latinas Unidas’ third annual day-long conference.

The gathering, newly dubbed the Latina Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Conference, brought together around 70 to 80 participants to meet others with similar interests and hear speeches from successful Latina women in a variety of fields.

The conference included panel discussions on topics such as “Checking the Box—What Does it Mean to be Latina?” and “Speak Up! Negotiation Strategies for Working Latinas,” as well as small-group workshops featuring Latina professionals in fields such as media, health, and politics.

“In general, the Latina community at large in the U.S. is facing a lot of adversity,” said Bianca M. Caban ’09, who organized the first conference in 2007. “It’s really important at Harvard for Latina women to see what other Latina professional women are achieving and to have them as role models.”

Becky H. Martinez ’11, the president of Latinas Unidas, said that one goal of the conference was to help Latina women at Harvard and in the local community focus on their strengths rather than the difficulties they face.

Panelist Alba E. Alvarez reinforced this point as she spoke about her life experiences, including being the only woman out of the 110 real estate agents at the company where she worked.

“I didn’t have any obstacles; the only obstacles are the ones we create,” said Alvarez. “Make your own road map of what you want.”

“It was good to hear about attitudes that Latinos, especially women, share. We need to be able to identify and market these attributes, as well as realize how they hinder us,” said Gloria J. Medina, a junior at Wellesley College.

Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, addressed the group as the conference’s keynote speaker.

“Harvard has a lot of work to do to make underrepresented minorities advance beyond the fields we expect them to be in,” Sorensen said. “I’d love to see Latinas in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. We still tend to have underrepresented minorities in fields that have to do with their ethnicities.”

A native of Argentina, Sorensen talked about the important cultural traditions that Latinas bring to the U.S.

“We bring yeast to the social body, or bread, that is always getting cooked by each generation, and it’s our turn now to add richness,” she said.