The Puerto Rican Cultural Center has celebrated International Women’s Day since the early 1980s. Much of the work The PRCC has accomplished since its founding 50 years ago has been through the dedication of powerful women activists, teachers, artists, volunteers, physicians, and community organizers. It is because of this dedication on behalf of so many incredible women that the Women’s Committee of the PRCC began to celebrate International Women’s Day with an award ceremony honoring women in our community who affirm unity, strength, and forge a better, more livable world for all beings. This year in addition to the award ceremony, The Women’s Committee of The Puerto Rican Cultural Center also held a panel discussion with local Boricua women community activists focused on addressing the biases that show up in the women’s liberation movement and discussing real ways to promote solidarity for women’s liberation.
The panel discussion was made up of three panelists: Dr. Marisol Morales (a longtime Humboldt Park activist who is currently working in higher education administration in the area of service-learning and community engagement), Jayla Padilla (a Trans Health Facilitator with the Trans Empowerment Center of the PRCC), and Angela Townsend (Co-founder of Sexpectations Chicago, which is a Black&Brown led collective providing sexual health education to Chicago youth). The discussion that came from this powerhouse panel touched on the importance of grassroots community organizing, how to practice self care as Black, Brown, and Trans women community organizers who face layers of oppression based on their identies, the failures of cisgender women to be welcoming of Trans women in spaces dedicated to women’s liberation, how we can take inspiration and lessons from the women community organizers who came before us, and the importance of celebrating our identities and the incredible work women community organizers do, which often goes unseen. The panel concluded with a crucial clarification that we cannot discuss women’s liberation without centering the experience of Black trans women. Panelist Jayla Padilla reminded us all that while Puerto Rico has a staggeringly high rate of murders of Trans women, we must also recognize that Black trans women are being murdered at horrorific rates in Chicago as well. Everyone at the International Women’s Day event was called to take responsibility for how they can work everyday to make this world, and our community a more life affirming place for Black trans women as we continue to fight for the liberation of all.
After the panel discussion the Women’s Committee of The PRCC held its annual International Women’s Day award ceremony, which was inspiring as we got to hear about our nine honorees and their work. The Community award went to longtime Humboldt Park community activist Juanita Garcia who has been organizing the Annual Paseo Boricua Parranda for the past 15 years. The Advocacy award went to Melissa Mark Viverito who is the Chief Policy Officer of The Puerto Rican Cultural Center, and has played a key role in organizing to free our Puerto Rican political prisoners and mobilizing to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques. Most recently Melissa Mark-Viverito has been essential to the success and continued promotion of the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act H.R. 2070. The Education award went to Dr. Isaura Pulido who is an Associate Professor of Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. Pulido is a powerful researcher who studies and sheds light on how multi-layered identities of youth converge and diverge with the processes of schooling and how these intersectionalities affect academic achievement. The Entrepreneur Award went to Michelle Gomez, Executive Director of Sangria Festival and this year’s Fiestas Patronales Puertorriqueñas. The Legislation award went to 33rd ward Alderman Rossana Rodriguez for her work to champion radical legislation like the public mental health ordinance Treatment Not Trauma, which fights to remove police from mental health crisis responses in Chicago. The Personal Growth award went to the PRCC’s very own SCaN-Program Coordinator, Jenise Santiago who has shown incredible personal growth making the SCaN youth violence prevention an incredible success while caring for her ill father. Two incredible students from Pedro Albizu Campos High School were honored with the Student award. The first was Evelyn Cordon who was awarded for the incredible resilience she has shown being one of the child immigrants who came to the United States in the caravan after traveling by herself for 6 months, and still everyday she comes to school with a heart of gold ready to learn. The second student was Amaris Navarro who is another student who owns what she has been through and has not allowed the obstacles in her life to get in the way of her education. The final Sylvia Rivera award was given to Jayla Padilla for all of her incredible organizing work prior to joining the PRCC, Jayla was an active youth organizer where she worked to lead more than 15 workshops to educate youth on topics of Gender and Sexuality, Restorative Justice, Know Your Rights, and more. Now as a Trans health facilitator Jayla has added incredible new dimensions to the Trans Chicago Empowerment Center. The entire International Women’s Day event was incredibly inspiring, especially hearing about all the unsung heroines who make our community such a special place!