Out of my comfort zone.
I am a Latina.
And, as I joined 9 Asian American Stonehill women at the Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence (ASPIRE) 7th annual Asian American Women in Leadership Conference hosted at Simmons College, I really knew I was Latina. Just looking around the room, I am quite certain I was the only Latina at the Conference. Which, this makes sense, right? After all, it was a conference for Asian American Women.
I was born and raised in a Spanish speaking household, where Spanish was my first language. I grew up helping prepare our signature dishes, pupusas and tamales, in the kitchen while listening to my aunts and uncles share stories of how life was so different in El Salvador. My family’s cultural values, faith, and determination were shared with me from a very young age. The schools I attended growing up in this country were racially and ethnically diverse. The members of my church represented the diversity of Latin America. Walking through my neighborhood, I knew I would pass people who looked like me and spoke my language. The city of Bridgeport, CT was my comfort zone. I knew I would see myself represented in my community.
But, so much of what I tell my students is to "live outside of your own comfort zone." Get out there. Get involved. Get engaged. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Though I am one of only a few women of color on this campus (and hence, already out of my own comfort zone), it was important to my growth and development to go to a conference -- as a Latina -- for Asian American women.
This Asian American Women in Leadership Conference “aims to promote strategic dialogue on the importance of leadership for Asian American girls and women. Specifically, the conference is designed to explore the role of leaders and leadership in a context relevant to Asian American women, highlight the effectiveness of diverse leadership skills and styles, create cross-generational networks among attendees that will extend discussions and relationships beyond the scope of the conference, and raise awareness about ASPIRE, its mission and value to Asian American girls and women (http://girlsaspire.org/aawil/index.html).”
I must admit at first I was extremely nervous to attend the conference as a Latina. Attending this conference definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone because I knew I would be in a room of women who neither shared my language or looked like me.
This opportunity to step out of my comfort zone was perhaps one of the best experiences of my life. By stepping out, I encountered a different world -- one in which I found a lot of similarities. I was exposed to the experiences of individuals as they gave voice to their stories of growing up, as college students, as professionals, and as leaders. Though we looked quite different on the outside, the truth was that we shared many of the same struggles, stories, and experiences as women of color. And, when we didn't share similarities, it was important for me to listen and be an ally in the conversation.
Once the conference had come to an end, I walked away with new found knowledge, new connections, and a new sense of inspiration. It was amazing to look out to the audience and see women from different ages, cultures, and walks of life united with the purpose of learning from each other. Throughout the day I was able to learn about other Asian American women, the Stonehill students that joined us, and myself. I learned, firsthand, the benefits of stepping out my comfort zone.
"Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." -- Chinese proverb