Name of Conference: LANZATE 2016
The organizers of “Mi Jente” sent me an email about their gathering with different organizations in Puerto Rico, and they asked me if I was interested in going and experiencing that. I first thought I couldn’t leave the U.S. because of Immigration, so I asked my attorney and she said there wasn’t a problem because Puerto Rico was part of the U.S. Then I thought about the cost because with what I make at my job, I knew I wouldn’t have enough for an expense like that. So I got in touch with the organizers and they talked about a scholarship, and I turned it in on the last day of registrations. I thought to myself, if I get the full scholarship, it means I need to be in that conference, and the next day they sent me a message saying I had been approved for a 100% scholarship. That was one of the best news I’ve ever gotten and I never thought this opportunity would come. This was a dream come true because I had wanted to know more about them, to see their work, and the community they work with so that I could bring back that information to my own community. But the flight was something that terrified me because I’m afraid of flying and also I didn’t want the Police to tell me anything. But everything turned out fine. I arrived to Puerto Rico and we ran into other friends from different states throughout the U.S.

The first section of the gathering happened the next day and there was a lot of people–around 500 people from different origins and also a diverse group of LGBTQ, Hispanic, African American, Hispanic American, and Afro-descendant Hispanic people. It felt like a great moment. You could be yourself and no one judged you. You could express yourself however you wanted to and you could feel people’s warmth and strength–that they were with you and they supported you. It really felt like a family and even though I didn’t know the majority of people, everyone helped you if you needed anything.

The organizations gave us a presentation about what “Mi Jente” does and a girl from Puerto Rico sang a song about liberty and the oppression in which we live. I liked it because she wrote the song and performed it with so much strength that she could communicate each word and listening to her gave me chills. It was incredible.

They were well organized and did a good job of having a good conference but something that I liked a lot is that they thought about every person and provided interpretation equipment so we could all understand what it was about and so they could express in ways in whichever way they feel the most comfortable. Then they split up into workshops and I went to the “Language Justice” one. It was very interesting because two youth led it and in their University they work around the importance for language justice and how it should be practiced. They gave a presentation where they explained the role of Language Justice and the job of the interpreter doing this work, but that part is more theoretical. There was an exhibit where different organizations displayed their t-shirts and other objects they brought with them in order to raise money, and each organization told us a little bit about what they do.
A group of Puerto Rican folks did a play that told us a little bit about all the suffering in Puerto Rico. Being at the hands of the power of the United States government is very intense because of what’s going on. But it’s a place where you see graffiti all over the streets saying, “Welcome Immigrants”, “Death to Oppression”, “My Dreams Don’t Fit in an Urn”.
The next day’s workshops started early. We began by spending time together over breakfast and did a small activity where we heard about the work of the different organizations. But there was one in particular that surprised me because it’s something very real that happens a lot. There is a group of trans people fighting against homophobia and anti-trans violence, and the fight to make sure no more trans people die. It’s an intense movement because they live in a lot of different kinds of situations, they face problems around migration, their sexual differences, their appearance, their skin color, violence, and some who live with STDs. It’s a movement that I like a lot — and I feel moved by them because they are some of the people who are most confronted with racism and violence, and other people don’t realize all of the harm that’s done to them.

Another workshop I attended was called “Apocatrump” (Apocalypsis with Trump in the government) and it was about what we can do during the difficult times that we’re going to face with Trump’s administration. And we had to think about ways we could take action as individuals, as families, as a community. At the state level, what strategies will we take as organizations in order to reach those people and inform them so they know that they’re not alone, and that this is a really big movement. Also, to have communication between different organizations. We also talked about what is a sanctuary and how to identify one. A sanctuary is a place where people who are directly affected by Immigration (ICE) are protected from them and ICE can’t enter those spaces. The role of the organizations is to raise funds in order to provide personal items and food, as well as supporting with people’s cases by reaching out to attorneys who offer their work to the community. It was a very long conversation because it’s a lot of work that you have to do as an individual and as a community, especially with the new President’s anti-immigrant statements.

It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had and it was also a great opportunity. Thanks to Mi Jente, I had the opportunity to bring this information back to my community so I could put into practice what I learned and to work even more on informing my community so they know that change is possible, that we have rights, and that we have an open mind when it comes to our LGBTQ and Afro-descendant community because we are one community being attacked by a new ignorant government.