Boston – Latinas from across Massachusetts convened at the Statehouse for the 5th Annual Latina Women’s Conference in celebration of International Women’s Day.
This year’s conference, "Extraordinary Women Fighting for Immigrant Justice," invited expert panelists to touch on the impact of immigration in their respective fields such as worker’s rights, health care, and domestic violence, among others. The conference’s coordinators said that this is the first year that international panelists were included on the topic, with speakers from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
One of the most compelling speakers was Crucita Martínez, a woman from the Dominican Republic who after months of living through physical abuse at the hands of her boyfriend suffered severe burns and disfiguration when he threw acid on her. Martínez has since become an activist for women’s rights and talks regularly at conferences and events about her survival as a victim of domestic violence.
"I’ve learned how to value myself and have strength I didn’t have before, have the strength to keep going and not allow myself to get mistreated again," she said in Spanish during an interview. "Because of what happened to me, I’ve been able to help other women who have gone through something similar or who have been abused."
Martínez is the subject of a forthcoming documentary by Colombian-American filmmaker, Monica Gutiérrez called, "Face of a Woman."
The conference, put on by the Network of Women in Solidarity, which is part of the Dominican Development Center, is meant to create an environment where women can talk openly about issues that directly affect them, said Magalis Troncoso, one of the conference’s founders.
Last year, the conference drew 300 women, according to Troncoso. This year, about the same number attended.
Martina Cruz, another conference organizer, said that being in the Massachusetts Statehouse is key because it represents the place where decisions are made on the political level.
"We’ve also focused on talking to legislators to raise issues that directly affect us," she said. "It’s a combination of being here but also knowing how to push for change."
The conference is also meant as a networking event for women to meet each other and for Latina leaders to be created, said Luzmar Centeno Valerio, another conference coordinator who works for Oíste, a state-wide Latino civic organization.
One of these emerging leaders is Ada Fuentes, 23, with the Student Immigrant Movement, a first-time panelist.
Fuentes, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, was brought to the U.S. as a baby and has never been to her native country. She said she would like to see more youth attend such conferences.
"There’s a lack of younger people and working people," she said. "As much as there is need for growth, I think that this is an important space to be able to host it here and come out and be inside the Statehouse saying there are Latinas and they have the courage to be recognized."
But this year’s conference was definitely striving for a global reach.
One of the panelists from Mexico, Lidia Sánchez, with the non-profit organization, Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC) located on the border in Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, said that issues like international migration will not cease as long as people are driven by economic need.
"The biggest global challenge between both countries [Mexico and the U.S.] is trying to prevent our people from coming and I don’t think they’re going to stop, no matter how many walls are put up," she said.
Sánchez said that comprehensive immigration reform is the measure needed to address the issue, one that tries to benefit both countries.
Tanya Pérez-Brennan is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com.