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'We can be ourselves': Latina leaders talk business and mental health

LatinaCon in Raleigh in 2019
La Noticia
LatinaCon in Raleigh in 2019.

North Carolina’s Spanish-language, women’s leadership conference, LatinaCon, returns to Charlotte this weekend.

The day-long speaker series, organized by La Noticia newspaper, will explore topics like mental health, finance and business — all from a Latina perspective.

Gina Esquivel, a bilingual business consultant for Civic Canvas, has attended several LatinaCons. For the first time this year, she’ll join the conference as a presenter on women’s leadership. She describes the annual event, now in its eighth year, as a place where local Latina professionals can open up and be their genuine selves.

“This is where we find women who are walking the same journey. They're sharing the same struggles and the same doubts,” Esquivel said. “It becomes a space for building our community. As Latina women, we are called to do so many things, to be in so many places, as every woman [is]. And then you still have to add the layers of being an immigrant, learning the language, learning the system.”

North Carolina’s Latino population has grown rapidly over the past three decades according to Census data, increasing from around 75,000 people in 1990 to more than 1.1 million in 2020. During that same time period in Mecklenburg County, the Latino population grew by more than 2000 percent from just under 7,000 residents to over 156,000 people.

“We are a new generation in Charlotte, Mecklenburg. Part of our work as Latinas is to understand both, understand our heritage and also develop an understanding of our context in this community,” Esquivel said, “to position ourselves as the intellectual powerhouses that we are and not to be looked at as the women who are always in that entry-level position, remove some of the stereotypes.”

The conference follows two difficult years for North Carolina’s Latino communities. By case numbers alone, COVID-19 has had a disproportionately high impact on the state’s Latino population.

That’s one reason event speaker Osiris Collazos has focused her life coaching practice, Mujerarte or “women art,” on migrant women.

There are people in the migrant community who still need help recovering from the crisis, Collazos said. She wants Latinas to rebuild their confidence and develop a resilient spirit.

“My compromise with my community is to provide the tools that I needed 20 years ago when I first arrived to the United States,” she said. “This is a good moment, not just to look back at our losses but to pick up what we have and make plans to continue forward.”

Most attendees and presenters at LatinaCon are bilingual but offering the program in Spanish allows the women to relax, explained speaker Wendy Pascual.

“It’s a space where we can be ourselves,” Pascual said, “and have the confidence we can receive help from others.”

LatinaCon starts this Saturday at 8 am at Sonesta Charlotte Executive Park. For more information, visit LatinaCon 2022 Tickets, Sat, Jun 11, 2022 at 8:00 AM | Eventbrite

Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte.