UnidosUS 2022 Conference: From the Eyes of an Intern

UnidosUS 2022 Conference: From the Eyes of an Intern

By Natalya Merida, RDF’s Communications Department Intern

This year marks my third summer being in RDF’s Familia, and this year I had the privilege of attending UnidosUS 2022 Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas. While this was my third conference; it was my first time attending in-person. Each year I have had the opportunity to write about my perspective of these conference sessions on the RDF blog. I am excited to take a deep dive into all the outstanding topics that UnidosUS had in store for this year’s conference revolving around the theme “Siempre Adelante – Our Quest for Equity.”

Education Recovery for English Language Learners

I attended the Education Recovery for English Language Learners workshop because I identify with the conversation growing up as in ELL classes. A focal point in this workshop that stood out to me was implementing the value of treating everyone with kindness in the classroom. No one knows what each student has endured during their lifetime: a rough childhood, recent immigration, or the implantation within a new community. English language learners should be celebrated. Many can view a new student’s lack of English as a deficit; however, ELL students are learning a whole other language on top of their native language. Instead of looking at their lack of English as something negative, we should take note of their supplementary strength in another language as an asset.

Natalya Merida (at right) with workshop presenter Veronica Madrigal, Principal at Henry Elementary, Long Beach Unified School District

During this workshop, UnidosUS provided tools to help Latino students who are vulnerable to the exacerbated systemic inequalities in the education system.

“I need you to explain what is happening, what services, what combinations, what supports we are providing the low-income families as if they were a high-income white family from Beverly Hills. How are you going to be an advocate for that child and how are you going to care for that child? As an educator, that has always been my push,” said Jonathan Tiongco, Founding Principal and Executive Director of Alliance Marine – Innovation & Technology 6-12 Complex.

With Jonathan’s powerful words, he showed that the same levels of attention need be present at all levels of education, especially with those that need a little push in the right direction for their future. Children are the next tomorrow, and the quality of their education will be the foundation for the next generations.

The Latina Luncheon

The Latina Luncheon on Saturday afternoon woke up my dormant childlike feelings. I enjoyed a handful of empowering moments where my stomach lit up and I had the urge to make a change for my Latina community. I know that being a Latina is powerful, and a blessing.

Christina Kolbjornsen, Senior Vice President Head of Corporate and External Affair at NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, shared that Latinas occupy 64 percent of all executive positions in Telemundo. This shows that companies such as Telemundo are giving Latinas the power to be in executive positions. This brings motivation to women and young women like me to strive to be in those honorable positions and inspire incentive to create change. We must all take action by investing in small businesses and educational resources for our community.

During the luncheon, Yvett Merino, film producer of Disney’s Encanto, shared the difficulties surrounding the filming of the movie during the spike of the pandemic. Although there was a need to adjust to new online-based communication, staff persevered and worked together to overcome the issues that come with not meeting in person. It was truly a struggle for all of us to adjust to a virtual world, but a great reminder of how our community overcame many issues these past couple of years. To accompany the story of the film’s rise, we all enjoyed a performance by Adassa Candiani, the voice of Encanto’s Dolores. She then shared her story of overcoming adversity mentioning that “life works in magical ways” regarding her audition process. Even though she had some health battles in her audition process, she persevered through and obtained her role as Dolores in Encanto. Her words were a beautiful reminder of trusting the path because it will lead you into your destined future.

Next, Erika Prosper Nirenberg, the first lady of San Antonio, shared the struggles of her duties being a mother, the first lady, and a business owner. Even though piles and piles of responsibility, she had to learn to set boundaries. She made an important point that women are allowed and should be encouraged to develop balance and boundaries in the workplace and at home.

Finally, Lucy Flores, CEO of Luz Collective, shared stories of difficult circumstances operating her small business while dealing with obstacles in her home life and how she conquered these challenges. Just as many small business owners push through the adverse times, she looked for resources, so her company stayed running. Her words reminded me of the perseverance that is seen in the Latino community.

Overall, the Latina Luncheon showed incredible examples of strong and empowering women that create small calls to action within a plentiful number of people attending and listening to their words.

In Summary

The opportunity to be present in these meetings has given me new insight into how I view things. I have learned so much from these sessions. They have opened my eyes to areas that need more advocacy in our Latino community.

I enjoyed the Unidos US 2022 Conference and looked forward to next year. I hope that listening to everyone’s influencing and inspiring words sparked a flame in you as well to create a change in the community.