“I am mixed, I am beautiful and I am proud,” said UC Santa Cruz student Alana Duvernay in a spoken-word poem at this year’s Womyn of Color Conference.
Delegates from UCSC, San Diego State, UCLA and other schools met on Saturday at the UCSC’s Oakes lower lawn to empower women of Latino, African, Native American, mixed-race and Asian roots.
The first keynote speaker, Dylcia Pagan, spoke on her experience as an activist in the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. At the event, stories like Pagan’s were celebrated, as well as other struggles women have overcome.
Sponsored by the Student Union Assembly (SUA) and several other campus groups, the Womyn of Color Conference is an annual event that is normally held at a different UC campus every year. Before last year, it hadn’t been held for four years. After the hiatus, the event was brought back at UC Santa Barbara in 2010.
The UC Student Association (UCSA) decides when and where the conference will occur. The UCSA is a coalition of the individual UC student governments, such as UCSC’s SUA.
Omar Villa, the SUA commisioner of diversity, said the theme of this year’s Womyn of Color Conference was “Celebrating our Stories.”
“It’s a two-day conference. We did it because it didn’t look like the other UCs were going to,” he said. “By talking about our struggles, we’re trying to empower women and focus on their achievements.”
With workshops, keynote speakers, caucus spaces, spoken word and dance troupes, the conference was an all-day event. Chairs were filled by students and faculty of all ethnicities, men and women.
UCSC’s African American Theatre Arts Troupe performed, as did the Haluan Hip-Hop Dance Troupe, Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas and Sabrosura Dance Troupe.
Villa said men were encouraged to attend. He led a workshop with a friend.
“It’s called ‘Letting Your Inner Vagina Out,’” he said. “Mine’s all about actively speaking out about sex without barriers and degradation. It’s a healing workshop, and it’s important to have men here as allies. They’re important to this space, and it’s one way we can all participate.”
Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, a Brooklyn-based spoken word artist, also attended and led a workshop called “Living Poetry Outloud! Writing & Performing Spoken Word.”
“I’ve really enjoyed talking and learning about all the different communities here,” she said.
In a spoken word performance called “Real Women I Know,” she commented on gender equality and the struggles of women.
“Real women I know aren’t women at all, but are tranny boys, gender queer, gender fluid, with short hair and button-down shirts — genitalia are only one tiny part of the puzzle when the world offers so much more,” she said. “Real women I know are driven into the ground eternally, never given rest, take on everybody else’s problems, never allow ourselves to give up.”
Three workshop sessions were held, with 26 different workshops to choose from. One workshop was held by Shannon Gleeson, a UCSC assistant professor of Latin American and Latino studies. She got involved with the event because she wanted to learn more about different student groups, she said in an email.
“I do think that it is important for faculty to participate in student programming,” she said. “However, especially in a tight budget climate with decreasing resources and increasing demands on faculty, it is not always possible to do so.”
Maya Wagoner, a UCSC student of mixed race, said it is important for these events to happen so people come together and have an open dialogue.
“It’s more open here,” she said. “There’s a wall up in the white community where people don’t often talk about racial issues. [This event] is a safe space to discuss issues of race in our communities.”