Improving Hispanic representation in community leadership roles, dispelling ethnic stereotypes, and forging alliances with other marginalized groups were among the issues discussed Sept. 15 during “Community Speaks: Hispanic Voices for Change.”
More than 50 Florida Gulf Coast University students, faculty and staff joined guest panelists for the Zoom conversation sponsored by FGCU’s Multicultural & Leadership Development (MLD) Center and Department of Language & Literature as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15).
In addition to celebrating the social, cultural and economic contributions of Hispanics, they discussed how best to serve as allies for Hispanic communities, how to develop the next generation of leaders and the meanings behind the terms Hispanic and Latino/Latina/Latinx. They expressed hope that today’s young people will continue the current wave of advocacy against inequality and injustice.
“You guys are so well informed, more engaged, more vocal about these issues rising up,” panelist Claribel Bocanegra, founder of the Hispanic American Doctors Association of Southwest Florida, told the FGCU students participating. “This is the beginning — having these types of conversations is so important. It gives me so much hope.”
Other panelists were: Myra Mendible, professor in the Department of Language & Literature; Lirio Negroni, associate professor in the Department of Social Work; and Carmen Salome, chairwoman of Hispanic Vote of Southwest Florida, a nonpartisan political action committee focused on informing and engaging the Latino community on voting and the local political process.
Following is a sampling of comments from the discussion. The full program will be available soon on MLD’s YouTube channel.
On challenges facing the Hispanic community
Claribel Bocanegra: Engagement in the political process, so we’re able to elect people who are more representative of our community. It’s important we engage in the process.
Lirio Negroni: I am concerned that there has been an increase of myths and stereotypes about the immigrant community. Latinos and Latinas are contributing to the economy of this area, contributing to our health, to our quality of life, through their work. We need new initiatives to raise awareness, to educate and to advocate for the immigrant community in the area.
Carmen Salome: One of challenges I’ve seen is a lack of representation on boards and committees reflective of the communities they serve. I’m out there looking and saying, ‘Hey, you’d be great on the affordable housing committee,’ and sometimes I get from people, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ There’s a real need for leadership development here.
Myra Mendible: How we see ourselves, what we aspire to, has a lot to do with representation through film, literature, rhetoric on the political scene, education. Every time we see representation of Latinos on TV, and so often in film, what we’re seeing are gang members, we’re seeing criminals, we’re seeing a problem that has to be dealt with. We need to be providing models for young Latinos to see themselves in positions and roles that are positive, so that they can aspire to dream to be more and not be afraid or held back by stereotypes constantly perpetuated in our culture.
On how to be an ally for Hispanics and other underrepresented groups
Claribel Bocanegra: The most important step is getting informed. You have to actively be aware that everyone has some sort of privilege and some form of oppression, and recognize systems that create injustice and inequality. Becoming an ally is not necessarily speaking for others but using our positions of privilege to create spaces and opportunities for those people to come to the table and use their voices. When something is wrong or unfair, it doesn’t matter what group it is, you stand up and stand alongside them.
Lirio Negroni: We have to make time to find out what’s happening to other underrepresented groups in the community, become more involved where discrimination and oppression is happening to different racial and ethnic groups, learn about challenges the LGBTQ community is having in the area. By being there for other groups, we’re helping the entire community to do better.
Myra Mendible: Intersectionality. There are interests that can cross over between different groups. Try to form coalitions, strategic alliances that can be effective and increase our voice. Latinos have many different interests and many different needs. We need to increase voter registration — that’s an issue important for Latinos and many other groups. Voter supression efforts are happening in different states that not only affect Latinos but African-Americans. Great alliances can be formed where we can work together to try to address some of these issues.
On ‘Hispanic’ v. ‘Latino/Latina/Latinx’
Lirio Negroni: We’re used to the term Hispanic, but the term was coined for census data. When we study the word Hispanic, it’s inclusive more of people of Spanish descent who speak Spanish. If someone asks me if I am Spanish, I say no. I’m not from Spain. I’m Puerto Rican. When you think of Latinos and Latinas, not all have Spanish ancestries. Many grew up in South America, Central America, Mexico, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Myra Mendible: The terms Latino/Latina/Latinx are politicized in a positive way. It’s a way to claim the power to name ourselves according to our diversity, our history, who we are as diverse people. Oppressed or marginalized groups so often are named by others. There will be controversy about what name we choose because we are struggling to have a voice of our own.