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The 2018 U.S. Afro-Latina Day conference focused on survivors of sexual assault and strategies for healing through sisterhood, artistic expression, and fellowship across generations

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SPEAKER: True of the Americas, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, and consistent rape of Indigenous and African Women. So, it is not only something in the United States, it is throughout. I don’t know how it had been in other places, but I know in the Americas there is no one corner that has escaped that.

KHALILAH HARRIS: July 25 is the annual observance of Internatioal Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Day. This year, The Real News joined the second annual U.S.-based conference at Howard University School of Law.

LUZ MARQUEZ BENBOW: So, this isn’t just for D.C. And I’m thinking of actually developing a template so that sisters could have, and they could take it and they can tweak it, but they can have the steps of looking at this. Because this is about building our leadership, this isn’t about me. This is about the leadership of Afro-Latinas who are survivors, who live in D.C., who are finding a voice and then finding sisterhood and siblinghood and wanting to have deep, critical conversations about things we don’t talk about, and in fact, we often get shamed about.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Over one quarter of Latinx people in the United States identify as Afro-Latin. Unknown to many, the celebration of Afro-Latin women began in 1992 in the Dominican Republic, and along with many organizations celebrating Afro-Latinx culture year-round, it has seen a resurgence of interest in the United States.

ASIA LEEDS: What I see is Afro-Latina women demanding, taking up space within Latina spaces, whether it’s cultural spaces, magazines, but also articulating a history of whitening and whiteness that dominates in Latin America that often gets left out of the conversation if we’re thinking about U.S. Latinidad. I see this flourishing. And now, Afro-Latinas are saying, “There’s no excuse for you not to know that we exist,” right? We’re here and we’re demanding spaces within I think Latino-Latina culture, but also within Black and Black-American spaces.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Organizers are using the celebration to build community among Black Women and nonbinary people from across the diaspora, as well as to provide space for healing and growth for survivors of sexual assault.

ROSA CABRERA: Much about the work that I do is the practice of reclaiming my own identity because when we’re assaulted we lose our sense of agency. I think about some of the challenges that I deal with in regards to my own mental, emotional health. And then those survivors that I have relationships with as well, and I try to kind of address those issues in my work and bridge those gaps. For me, that work is self-care.

KHALILAH HARRIS: The conference also provided an opportunity to build sisterhood and provide education about experiences of Black Women descended from enslavement, with a particular focus on learning and affirmation between people of all ages.

ALICIA SANCHEZ-GILL: So, there there’s so much exciting stuff happening, but the thing I’m most excited about is that I’m here and that we’re here together and we’re celebrating ourselves and we’re honoring ourselves and we’re making space for ourselves and we’re naming each other. And it feels really beautiful because for Afro-Latinx folks, we don’t often have those spaces, particularly for women living at the intersections of race and gender and ethnicity and immigration status and being survivors and being queer. We’re bringing all of ourselves to this space and that feels really amazing and safe.

MAMA NTOZAKE SHANGE: Our stregth and our hopefulness and our resilience and our ability to see past the immediate danger to a safe landing, to safety. And our ability to offer safety to others.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Why do you think it’s important for young women in particular to explore the world and see women like them in other communities, and in other countries?

MAMA NTOZAKE SHANGE: It’s important because our girls think their world is limited to their block and their world is limited to English speakers or is limited to people who are one color, and that’s not true. The world is much bigger than that, and the more we can offer our girls in terms the experiences that are not familiar to them, the broader and more capable as adults they’ll be.

KHALILAH HARRIS: I’m Dr. Khalilah Harris for The Real News Network. Stay tuned for second installment of this two-part examination of the experiences of Afro-Latinas, International Afro-Latina Day, and the connections between Black Women and girls from across the diaspora. Tuesday July 31 is the last day of our summer fundraising campaign. If you haven’t given already or can give a little more, please click the donate button. Without your support, there would be no Real News.

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Khalilah M. Harris is a host and executive producer at the Real News Network focused on the Baltimore Bureau, education reporting, and social commentary. Khalilah brings a unique perspective to curating content from an extensive career working to expand access to opportunity through an equity lens in community organizing, education, education policy, youth advocacy, and building an inclusive workforce. In addition to her background as an attorney and researcher, Khalilah brings experiences from the grassroots as a founder of a Baltimore City school focused on social justice, to co-founding a local community collaborative called the Coalition of Black Leaders in Education. She organizes nationally with the EduColor movement and served as the first Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. A proud alum of Morgan State University, Khalilah also obtained her doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, and her law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law.