“As Latinas, we bring a lot to the workplace,” Dr. Eglí Colón said. “We are leaders in our own homes and we need to believe in those skills.” Colón was speaking on March 8, International Women’s Day, at Sí Se Puede, an event highlighting the importance of Latinas in the workplace. Hosted by student clubs SOL (Student Organization of Latinos) and RISE (Raising Interest in the Social Environment), Sí Se Puede drew a large crowd of Latino students, both male and female, as well as students from other ethnic groups. Colón engaged Fordham students in a discussion about the shortage of Latinas in high-skilled jobs. Lack of solidarity and role models in Latino communities, damaging stereotypes, low graduation rates and teenage pregnancy were attributed to the issue.
“This is my living room,” a jubilant and carefree Colón said. Colón is a native of Santiago, Dominican Republic and an accomplished inner-city educator with bachelor and doctoral degrees in health care management and urban education. She has been teaching in New York City public schools for more than a decade, and is currently a chairperson in the religious studies department and campus ministries of East Harlem’s Cristo Rey New York High School.
The conversation between Colón and the students was serious as they commented on the harsh realities of Latinas’ positions in the career world. “Despite the progress we have made, there are hurdles to overcome as a demographic,” Colón said. She pointed out that sexism and hyper-sexualized stereotypes of Latinas are major hindrances to their success. Colón also argues that the division among Latinos is a problem. “Until we stop [competing with each other] we can’t progress.”
Students proposed solutions to these issues. Increasing graduation rates and prolonging motherhood for Latinas were among the many, as it was believed that it can help Latinas build better foundations for themselves. Another suggestion was for Latinas to acknowledge the benefits that they bring to the workplace–like history, culture and diversity. Students then proposed that Latinas put aside their differences and make greater efforts to build strong working relationships and professional networks. Colón agreed, stating that if Latinas have better support of one another, they will be more equipped to make smart decisions.
Students also noted the importance of taking pride in their language, culture and family history. “We are strengthened by our origin,” said Colón, using herself as an example. She explained that she pushed herself to excel in school off of the strength of her parents who risked migrating undocumented to the United States. They were determined to ensure a better future for their children.
Colón went on to say that she felt it was important for Latina students to go back and serve their communities as role models at a local level. “Many times we feel that when we make it, we get out of our neighborhoods…but we need to go back and be a reminder to [others] that if we made it, they can make it as well.”
Colón ended the discussion by encouraging Latina students to overcome their insecurities, to recognize their value and to be more outspoken. Some of the students sat Indian style in a circle, listening closely to Colón’s words. “We cannot be consumed by our fears,” she said. “You are just as equipped: you have a voice and you have to let your opinion be known. Even if you are afraid, step out in faith.”