By: Kristopher Perez, President of Scripps Hispanic Network
There were a lot of important lessons that I took back to Athens from my experience at the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute National Conference, but the one that I deemed most important was the unity factor. During the conference, I was in a room with people who looked like me and shared the same background as me. Everyone was connected in some way, and those connections and networking opportunities are what made USHLI 2017 a conference to remember.
The first day of the conference (that SHN attended) was filled with empowerment and unity, but the second day was filled with information regarding how we presented ourselves as individuals, what the importance of Latino vote was in the election and misconceptions surrounding Latinx in higher education.
All three of these topics were explored and dissected in a large panel forum on the importance of the Latino vote, a personal branding workshop and a workshop explaining how it’s important for us as Latinx to respect different perspectives within our own culture.
The forum was titled “An Analysis of Victories and Losses in the 2016 Elections: Organizing for the Census and Future Elections,” and focused on giving those in the audience the information they needed regarding the Latinx vote in the elections this year, and what we needed to do to make a difference in the years to come. The discussion was started by Rudy Lopez, a consultant from L.A., who spoke about why it’s important for our generation to mobilize and make a difference at the polls.
“We know what can happen when things don’t go our way, so we need to make a difference and take initiative.”
Lopez drove home the fact that we should be registering to vote in order to make a difference, and if you can’t vote, go out and register two to three people to vote. The only way we can have representation is if we make our voices heard.
The other two panelists focused on two very important topics: “Hurricane Donald,” as explained by Thomas A. Saenz, the President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Prison Gerrymandering explained by Juan Cartagena, the President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice, PRLDEF.
Both topics struck a chord, and give me a perspective of things I didn’t really think about beforehand. Those who are in prison are taken away their right to vote, and Cartagena made it clear it was something he was extremely passionate about.
“We have to deal with the fact that voting is a privilege, not a right.”
Saenz, on the other hand, spoke about how regardless of what this administration does to persecute other, we must fight back with our words and by getting involved. Without involvement, change cannot occur. This is something I think every speaker touched on throughout the whole day. We cannot be heard if we never speak up.
“We are, in the Latino community, the first responders. We are the front lines. There are opportunities in what we face in the Trump era and we have to take advantage of them. You need to be talking to your peers daily about conquering ‘Hurricane Donald’”
Politics weren’t the only focus, the rest of the day was focused on how to better ourselves and become better leaders.
One of the workshops that I attended was titled “Debunking Misconceptions of Latinx in Higher Education,” where we heard from Dr. Elena Foulis from The Ohio State University about how Latinx should make sure to have a cross-cultural perspective. Everything doesn’t revolve around one culture, and different cultures certainly have their own views and opinions. Without this understanding, division occurs instead of the unity that should happen.
“Language, names … It’s part of who we are and how we tell our story. Sometimes as Latinos, we’re not aware of cultural differences. Cross-cultural awareness is important.”
Seeing things through another worldview is important and can lead to better understanding in different cultures. USHLI allowed me to see that and understand that not everyone is on the same level that I am. I may have more privilege than others, and I need to use that to be the voice for those who don’t have one.
A lot of knowledge was passed down to me throughout the USHLI conference, but what stood out to me the most was the way the panelists acknowledged the hardships occurring with Hispanic and Latinx currently and how we all have to come together to get through those hardships together.
The conference was the unifying of hundreds of people who were just like me looking for the same thing: how to be a better leader, and how we can impact the way people see us in the years to come. I definitely credit USHLI with giving me a larger perspective on what’s going on in our society, and what I can do as a student to make some changes.