Speaker at Latinx Heritage Month encourages advocacy

Photo by Tori D'Amico

The smell of fresh tacos, guacamole, rice and more delicious dishes filled the hallways of the Student Center as the closing banquet of Latinx Heritage Month took place.

Latinx Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and has been full of events at Ramapo. This closing event was defined by the presence of keynote speaker Viviana Zambrano.

Zambrano proudly took to the stage donning a shirt which read “Daughter of an Immigrant,” which she later commented on, noting that she too is an immigrant. 

Having been born in Ecuador, Zambrano’s family relocated to America in order for her to receive an education. She identified education as her first struggle in America, when her school initially refused to accept her. 

She brought students her message of the need for advocacy through her story, where she learned from her mother to fight for her needs until consistent “no’s” led to one "yes".

“Someone fought for you to be here,” said Zambrano. “So why are you not fighting?”

As an academic advisor for the Educational Opportunity Fund at Montclair State University, education and the privilege that comes with is something she does not want students to forget the importance of. 

In her own years at Seton Hall University, Zambrano learned about the importance of advocacy. She recalled her first class where the professor refused to pronounce her name correctly.

“Your name is the first way people validate or invalidate who you are,” she said

Advocacy is, to Zambrano, about more than demanding respect for yourself. It is also about standing up for others with empathy for their situations. She highlighted the need for unification across communities and caring about issues that one has not personally experienced. 

“What stops you from uniting around a cause?” she asked. “Is it pride?”

Students were reminded that as members of Ramapo, they have the opportunity to insight the change they wish to see. Though she supported the use of social media as an activist platform, Zambrano said that social media alone is simply not enough.

“Being on a college campus itself is a political statement, whether you realize it or not,” she said.

In addition to her overarching message for advocacy, Zambrano spoke about the non-profit organization she works with, “Latina Made, Not Maid.”

“Latina Made, Not Maid” takes part in the discussion about changing language and its relationship to stereotypes. The phrase was born out of a Google search which suggested “Latina maid” over “Latina made.”

The importance of language in relationship to a cause was a core component of Zambrano’s stories, as she reminded students of how she fought for her name to be respected. 

“We hear immigrants are not the greatest people,” she said. “And I beg to differ, every time.”

All in the room listened intently as Zambrano opened her heart and shared her message. She closed with a poem titled, “What is Latina?”

Her final statement surely stuck with those who heard it, and it summarized her core message.

“You choose what you want to be called,” she said. “In every moment.”