BY Claudia De La Cruz
It is said in an ancient proverb that “when women gather ‘around the bonfire’ ideas are born, magic grows, wood is burnt, wood becomes hot, they rejoice, celebrate, heal, readjust, invent, create, put things together, pull things apart, burry, give birth …” This was the case at the 1st Latina Women Encounter in New York City held on Saturday, March 30th at Gregorio Luperón High School in Washington Heights. This gathering or Encuentro presented by Da Urban Butterflies Youth Leadership Development Project and Casa Verde Camila, brought together over 200 Latina women from different New York City communities, ages and experiences.
This 1st Latina Women’s Encounter was filled with energy and creativity in celebration of womanhood and Afro-Indigenous cultures. The space was created with a deep commitment of connecting with our roots- las raíces– and with each other. An amazing opening ceremony was conducted by Mexican sisters and healers, Elvira and Hortencia, acknowledging and thanking the power of the 4 elements of nature- water, fire, earth and air. After the space was blessed by the call to our ancestors, women and children walked around the school’s second floor to attend a numerous of workshops. These workshops were offered to deepen the participant’s knowledge and understanding of “los que-haceres expresivos de la mujer” (the expressive doings of women). Some of these workshops included healing techniques, drawing, painting, jewelry making, knitting and theater amongst others.
During the afternoon, community members visited the vendor’s market and exhibit hall, where they could purchase books, jewelry, clothes, cup cakes and access information on community services offered by different organizations. Participants were also able to acknowledge themselves at the photo booth of self-recognition. Women, men and children lined up to have their pictures taken with inspirational messages they wrote: “I am – because of my grandmother and my mother” “The world trembles at the site of women’s power” and “Use your inner power!”
To consolidate the different ideas and practices that gave birth to this Encuentro, the panel “Deepening our womanhood through actions” served as a platform for women doing work in the fields of spirituality, reproductive health/justice, immigrant rights, labor rights and gender equality to share their stories, engage the audience and inspire other women to get involved in making positive changes in their lives and their communities.
The Encuentro was a wonderful example of the Latina women community that is intergenerational, powerful, creative, talented, beautiful and proud. The fashion exhibit “Raíces“ (Roots) was a showcase of women’s apparel from different native communities from Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, Africa an the Middle East. A mixture of the original pieces and collected items of Milagros Batista (Dominican) and Nieves Ayress (Chile)- long time community leaders, human rights activist and cultural workers. The Encuentro ended with the amazing music of the Legacy Women, Afro-Caribbean rhythms that had the crowded exhibit hall dancing to the beat of the drums.
This annual gathering, in its initial stage, was an amazing event, with an amazing turnout, with amazing women and men who dream and work towards the construction of a more equitable society. The potential of this Encuentro is immeasurable, and its promise of continuing to create a space for women to build solidarity, sisterhood, and showcase and strengthen their skills as they claim their power is invaluable. The plans for the 2nd Latina Women Encounter in NYC in 2014 has began, and the Washington Heights community will continue to be the host.