Latina Sorority Sigma Lambda Upsilon (SLU) welcomed five accomplished Latinas to campus to share with students the obstacles they overcame to find success in their fields on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
The five featured speakers included a delegate to Maryland’s General Assembly, a judge with D.C.’s Superior Court, a public policymaker for the Department of Health and Human Services, a museum curator and a senior policy adviser for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Before the floor was opened to questions from the audience, representatives from the sorority directed questions to the panel as a whole.
SLU members immediately plunged into the theme of the event, asking about inequality, especially in the workplace, or the “glass ceiling.” Panelists did not sugarcoat the inequality that still exists in the business world. But their voices also resounded with hope.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said the Honorable Laura Cordero, the first Latina Associate Judge to be appointed to D.C.’s Superior Court. “But there is great room for improvement and progress.”
The messages of Cordero’s fellow panelists were similarly filled with pragmatism and urgency.
“As a person of color, you’re going to have to work twice as hard,” said Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk. “Because it’s not just for you. It’s also for the next person after you.”
The presentation was held during SLU’s “Raíces Week,” an annual event that celebrates Hispanic heritage and culture. The night revolved around the theme “Somos Suficiente,” or “We Are Enough.”
“There’s a lot of tension in the political climate right now, and I think it’s very important for women of color and women in general to know that there is an ability to break the glass ceiling,” said senior sociology major Sarah Escoto, the sorority’s secretary and treasurer. “It’s possible to become an honorable judge, it’s possible to become an attorney, it’s possible to become a museum curator regardless of your gender, sex, orientation, or ethnicity.”
SLU Members reiterated the panelists’ persistent philosophies.
“Some people will judge you based on your physical appearance,” said senior psychology major Tania Turcios, SLU vice president. “Don’t let people’s ignorance get to you. Know what qualities you possess and be confident in yourself. That’s what really matters.”
Many of the featured speakers spent their childhoods in unsafe environments. Cordero said she grew up in a “war zone.” She said her next-door neighbors dealt drugs and hid their product in the tree in her front yard.
Zazy Lopez of the Department of Homeland Security, a self-identified “product of the New York City public school system,” was raised in the South Bronx projects. However, neither woman allowed disadvantage to determine her future.
“There’s always going to be someone who will tell you you can’t do it,” said Cordero, who only decided to apply to Harvard after a 50-minute conversation with a supportive professor. “That’s when you look for the next person.”
The women also instructed attending students not to feel like imposters if their race or gender played a role in their hiring.
“I think they love us because we count twice – once as a woman, once as Latino,” said Cordero. “But it doesn’t matter if you hired me because I’m Latina. You will be thankful that you gave me this opportunity. I will put in the work for you. I will pull all-nighters.”
SLU’s Escoto related strongly to the struggles discussed by the panelists.
“Being a woman, being a woman of color, I have been placed in this box,” she said. “These women are not super-humans – they have kids, they have families, but they were still able to surpass the limits that were placed on them. We want to show people, especially college students who will soon be graduating, that it is possible to escape that box – that you’re not stuck within the limitations society has put on you.”