I Am Woman, Hear Me Write

Maria Zavala: Let's unite our differences in Manatee County

For the last 40 years, I have been an agent for change and building community. I have presented workshops locally and nationally on diversity and cultural sensitivity, unity and peace. So when I read the following, I had to pause.

"The face of America is changing and the fate of America hinges on how we react to and invest in those changes." (Angela Glover Blackwell, Policy Link 2011)

My first thought was, really? Ready or not, it is here. How will Manatee County react? How will it affect me? As a homeowner, employee, voter, volunteer and Latina, I have seen these changes up close and personal. Fortunately I have worked with many organizations in our community in collaborative efforts to best include and serve this growing population.

I have also had the privilege of facilitating a self-empowerment and identity group for Latinas at the Women's Resource Center Manatee for 10 years now and witnessed the very diverse population of educated, skilled Latinas from all over the map who have so much to offer our community. We are so much more than just translation skills. Building bridges is hard but necessary work if we are to come together in healthy, honest dialogue about what our aspirations are for our shared community.

Latinos are this nation's largest emergent "minority" group. It's been predicted that by the year 2030, we will likely account for a quarter of the population. Here in Manatee County, we continue to witness the increasing number of Latinos relocating from other parts of the nation.

I first arrived here 15 years ago, but it was not until two years later that I joined the work force. Like many other Latinas, I arrived with degrees, years of experience and many skills. But the jobs available for me seemed to always end with "working with the Spanish-speaking population" -- primarily translation. Don't get me wrong. I have a passion for the work I do with Latino families in my community, but I so desperately wanted to use all of my skills, be acknowledged for the many other abilities I possessed and was all too anxious to share. While this is

slowly changing, it is still a complaint that many professional Latinas have.

Our collective challenge is having the courage to begin uniting our differences by preparing for a world of diversity. Uniting our differences means working together to build community. I am so very proud at how many are stepping up in Manatee County and that I can be a part of this wonderful process.

But it takes a lot more than just getting a group of people together. It means inclusion, working together, recognizing and respecting our differences and, above all, taking time to celebrate our commonalities. I recently sat around a table with the most amazing women who not only had the courage to participate in a process of uniting our differences, but also shared a mission: "Empowering Women, Changing Lives and Strengthening Our Community."

As we discussed creative ways of addressing the needs of Latinas, the more we shared the more we realized that we were all women. And that commonality somehow made our discussion easier. There was candid conversation about differences and animated talk when we shared common grounds.

Everyone's heart was clearly in it. We focused on strengths, potentials and abilities of all. Everyone was encouraged to openly participate, contribute their gifts and talents. We talked of ways to build bridges by creating opportunities to share cultures and multicultural programing. We were building community!

In Community Building and Peace, Scott Peck writes about knowing you have community when a group of people participates in common practices, depends upon one another, makes decisions together, and commits to each other's growth. I think the message was clear that the beginning of something really good was happening, and I look forward to the positive rippling of community in ever larger context.

"For every difference that makes us unique, there is a common thread which connects us all. We share the need for home and community for love and respect. May these common threads form a beautiful world in which all people and all cultures are honored." -- Hallmark greeting card

Maria V. Zavala, founder of Latinas of the Women's Resource Center, can be reached at merizavala@ aol.com.

COMING NEXT SUNDAY: Emma Taylor, a young single woman who came home to Manatee, admits: "Oh, Instagram! What a tumultuous relationship we have."