The First Latino/a Connection Conference 2016 at Salem State
By Michele C. Dávila Gonçalves
On March 26, 2016, Salem State University’s Latin American Student Organization (LASO) organized the first “Latino/a Connection Conference,” inviting dozens of students from nearby institutions to participate in this successful community activity. The conference was based on Raquel Cepeda’s quote: “Being Latino, means being from everywhere, and that is what America is all about.” It started with an introduction at 10:00 a.m. in which the members of LASO explained the origin of the conference and the agenda for the day directing students to rotate among the three sessions planned for them.
One of the sessions was held by Dr. Daniel Delgado from the Sociology Department with the theme: “Who is Afro-Lati@? Who is Latin@?” which focused on the formation of LatinX racial identities in the Americas. The goal was to understand how histories of race have shaped the racial identities for the young generation today. Another session was facilitated by myself with the title: “Latin@ Poetry as Advocacy” in which I presented poetry from the Chicano, Dominican-American and NuyoRican groups in the United States and their importance in dealing with identity, assimilation, racism and social critique. From Rodolfo “Corcky” González with his seminal poem “Yo soy Joaquín,” and Sandra Cisneros representing the Chicano poetry, to Julia Alvarez from the Dominican Republic and the New York Poet’s Café conglomerate represented by Migel Algarin, Pedro Pietri, Miguel Piñero, and new performative poet Willie Perdomo, among others. Also Elisa Castillo, Director of Counseling and Health Services, talked about the “Familia Latina” explaining household dynamics of Latin@s in the United States and how violence has infiltrated these communities. She proceeded to teach students about preventing sexual and relationship violence on campus. All sessions were well attended and students participated by talking about their own and their families’ experiences.
The day ended with a talk by Frankie Reese, an actress and poet who was in MTV’s “Washington Heights” musical. She sat in a circle with the students talking about not only social problems affecting the community, but also opportunities to become engaged and successful. All meals and refreshments were served during the day, with Twitter comments projected, book raffles and picture opportunities, and the event ended with a dinner and dance afterwards. I applaud this effort to bring the Latin@ community to Salem State and to highlight the importance of networking and solidarity. There was a strong feeling of potential and a desire to become productive members of this country and to help others.