Carlos Rosario School graduate Paola A. Diaz Gomez shares lessons learned at the 2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference held this past summer in Washington, D.C.
For three days, I attended the Annual UnidosUS Conference in Washington, D.C. as a Carlos Rosario School alum. I studied English as Second Language in this school for one year. Carlos Rosario School did not just give me the opportunity to study and grow as a person, but to enroll college and look for a better future. After being invited to the conference by the school staff, I decided to attend and participate in an amazing leadership development opportunity. This conference was held with the largest Latinx civil rights organization in the country, UnidosUS.
The annual conference was a unique opportunity to debate the various topics related to the Latinx community in the United States, as well as topics that are related to our home countries. For example, before this conference, I was blind to the many issues that are present in my home country, Colombia. One of them being racism. I grew up in a biracial family, in a department in Colombia where people are mainly lighter in skin tone, but due to the ethnicity of my family, I hardly noticed any kind of discrimination or racism towards myself or my family. Therefore, I believed that racism was something that people would not face in my country. However, Ilia Calderón, an Afro-Colombian journalist, during her presentation at the UnidosUS conference, described how she experienced racism in Colombia. She explained how Colombia is a country where people live segregated because of their skin color, (some departments are mainly white, and others are mainly black). Departments with more Afro-Colombians are typically forgotten by the government, and they are on average poorer. The conference sparked in me a strong interest in the history of racism in my country.
Another thing I learned from the conference is what it means to be a Latina in the U.S. It can be something difficult but, at the same time, it is something I feel proud of. I have been harassed and mistreated due to my ethnicity, but I have also met many people that made me feel welcome in the country, and that work hard to create a world without barriers and hate. When I arrived at the conference, I looked around and I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Latinos. I found very pleasant that people would ask me if I would prefer to speak English or Spanish, and I did not feel afraid to speak Spanish out loud. The conference gave me the courage to promise myself to not fear or feel ashamed of my language, and that if someone tells me that I should speak English, I will answer with a fact: “There is not, on the federal level, an official language in the U.S.”
Ignorance is the most important factor for the existence of discrimination. Talking about these issues is a way to unveil the ignorance, and this conference is one of those ways. Thank you for the experience.