Lorena Pérez woke up early on a Saturday morning to attend the fifth annual Conferencia de Liderazgo para Mujeres del Norte de California without knowing what to expect. It was the first time she decided to attend after having browsed the Mexican Consulate of Sacramento’s website.
“I was not sure what to expect, but my first impression was that it was more than I imagined,” said Pérez.
Like in previous years, the Mexican Consulate hosted the annual conference with the hope of educating Latina women throughout Northern California over relevant topics of interest and providing information to them on a variety of different issues including mental illness and human trafficking.
“When we first launched this conference we invited only women that were considered community leaders and advocates with the hope of providing them with the necessary tools and information to continue being successful leaders,” said Mariana Carine Tyler, communications director at the consulate.
Eventually, the conference has been open to all women.
On Saturday, the consular doors welcomed more than 250 women from throughout Northern California.
“It is great to see so many women who are interested in bettering the community and who woke up early this morning, eager to learn about the issues that are important to our community. It is my hope that this conference is able to provide you with the information and tools you need to continue being successful community advocates,” said Alejandra García Williams, Mexican Consul General of Sacramento.
This year’s theme focused on three subjects: mental health and overall women’s health, human trafficking and legal consultations.
For Pérez, the workshops were more than informative. They were topics that have a very real presence in the community and merit attention.
“I was really interested in the presentation on human trafficking. But what interested me the most was the health presentation by Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, which was about the correlation between diabetes and depression,” said Pérez.
“Diabetes is part of many Latino families and I know it’s a part of my family. So to understand and identify the signs of depression in our family members which also suffer from diabetes was very enlightening for me.”
Pérez is a business analyst at Blue Shield of California.
“A moment that stood out to me was during the human trafficking workshop. The discussion moved to domestic violence and a participant stood up and asked for help herself. She was a victim of domestic violence and asked for resources for herself and her children,” said Pérez.
The woman had the courage to stand up “and ask for help,” added Pérez.
Leslie Valdivia, economic development coordinator for Opening Doors, Inc. attended the conference after receiving an invitation from a friend who helps the consulate with legal affairs.
For her, hearing the personal story of one of the invited guest speakers, Vanessa Guerra – the sister of Sacramento City Councilmember Eric Guerra and a well-known community advocate known for her role in helping farmworkers obtain affordable housing – was inspiring.
“I really enjoyed the opening session when the Consul and other invited opening session presenters spoke and gave their background story. The story that was the most touching to me was Vanessa Guerra’s and the great example her mother gave her to leave their violent and abusive father in order to give them a better life,” said Valdivia.
Conference organizers believe providing information to women is key to their success.
“Women are the first responders in their home and they undoubtedly play one of the most important roles in their families and that extends to their communities,” said Cynthia López, a program administrator with the Health Education Council.
“It is important they have the information they need to be successful and that they are informed and have any and all of their questions answered in order to be more productive members of society.”
Valdivia noticed many of this year’s attendees and most of the women in general are in dire need of help in one form or another.
“There were so many questions during the Q&A portion of every session regarding how to help other women about mental health problems when they deny getting help to then another woman admitting she was suffering violence and needed help. I learned that we need more Latina women in the social services fields that understand the language and cultural background of Latinos,” said Valdivia.
Overall, women need to be more proactive and should try to attend events to become more informed, said Valdivia.
“It is important for women leaders to go to these events or for us to take whatever we learn and talk about it with each other. That is how we bring awareness to our communities which lead to people being helped,” said Valdivia.
For Pérez, the experience of attending this year’s conference was one of the best and one she is looking forward to in the coming year. Being a leader in the community, as a woman, is more than just a label.
“To be a leader, it does not only apply to a job. Leadership can be applied to your personal life as well. We can all be leaders, at work, in our families and in our communities,” said Pérez.