On Saturday, September 28, Bay Path’s Office of Multicultural Affairs held its Latinx Symposium at the Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center. Panamanian writer, poet, activist, and speaker Yvette Modestin spoke at the event and shared her experiences as an afro-descendant in Latin America, as well as her experiences with the organization she founded, Encuentro Diaspora Afro in Boston, MA. Modestin, named one of the 30 most influential Afro- Latinas of the world, has been the diaspora coordinator of Red de Mujeres Afro and the representative of this network at the United Nations Office for Women and the African Union. In addition to leading and representing these great movements, she is an artist, a licensed mental health clinician, and a wellness facilitator.
Modestin opened her session by asking, “How do you identify yourself? How do others perceive you?" She wanted the audience to recognize that the struggle for many 'afro' descendants is rooted in the reality that how people see you and how you identify yourself may differ. "Some of my greatest pain has been in Latino spaces [like] Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc., where my brothers and sisters may not identify me as one of their own because of my colors,” she shared. “Some of them don't speak Spanish and have lighter skin, yet they are accepted, and I am questioned." Modestin went on to reinforce that the term 'Latino' represents an ethnicity and not a race, and that historically 'Hispanic' is a government-designated term. She suggested that people ask others to disclose what they prefer to be called.
"In life, we are made to feel invisible," Modestin said. "We claim an acceptable identity for the spaces we are in -- while hoping to be accepted or seen. 'Invisible' means that we walk into spaces that are historically filled by people who do not look like us. Many times we don't feel comfortable expressing ourselves or being ourselves without being judged.” Making special note of some aspects of Latinx cultures, and giving the examples of the Arawak and the Taino groups being almost erased through extinction, Modestin advised everyone to return to their heritage and discover who you are and how you want to be recognized.