When my sister, Becky Montes was a mere two years-old, my mother, Teresa Montalvo, introduced her to advocacy for other Latinas—my sister just didn’t know it at the time. They lived in a tiny, beige apartment across Pasadena City College (PCC) and my mother, an immigrant from Mexico City, had been living in the United States for 11 years.
One morning, while walking along Colorado Boulevard with my sister, my mother heard a familiar sound coming from PCC, one that reminded her of Mexico City. Unbeknownst to them, a little ways from their apartment were women at PCC setting up for the second annual Adelante Mujer Latina (AML) conference, held in part to encourage young teenage Latinas to continue to pursue higher education and open a space where they can feel comfortable to share their dreams.
My mother, full of curiosity and excitement, followed that sound, through the open spaces of PCC and found women standing around waiting for a dance performance to start.
“I was passing by and heard mariachi music and saw some women wearing Mexican outfits who were going to dance,” said my mom. “When I walked further into the quad area, I saw this colorful event unfold in front of me and felt instantly connected to [AML].”
After my mother attended the conference on that fateful day in 1995, she knew that she wanted to get involved. When the third AML conference rolled around, she decided to enlist parents to join and attend the conference with her.
“Every year, I tried to bring people to the conference,” said my mom. “Even if I didn’t go, I still continued to tell parents about it.”
Since then, she has been involved in the conference in different ways including being a workshop presenter, where women from different professions hold workshops and talk about how they overcome adversity and persevere.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to [present at the AML conference],” said my mom. “This conference gave me a place to belong to and hope that I could continue my higher education.”
With her determination and the help of AML, my mother completed her Bachelor’s degree and later, Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Oaks College.
With the abundant support of AML and having gone back to school, my mother knew that stumbling upon the conference with my sister was no coincidence but in fact a community that she wanted my sister and I to be part of.
“I was never in a committee,” said my mom. “But I thought I could enroll my daughter.”
Behind the scenes, there are meetings held once a month to create the conference, where young Latinas part of the Teen Committee, convene and voice their opinions on what they would like to see at the conference.
While attending PCC, my sister was part of the Teen Committee and helped plan some of the conferences. During her time involved, she was pushed to take risks and felt like she was in a space where she was encouraged to be herself.
“I remember I had that feeling inside where I wanted to express myself,” said my sister. “Having finally found a space where adults consistently care and believe in you is really special.”
As a teen, what my sister found most compelling was how she saw women of color achieve things that normally would be overlooked or ignored in everyday life and mainstream media.
“When I saw women of color who got their Ph.D. from renowned institutions, it helped me see that I could go to graduate school,” said my sister. “Stereotypes impact you but seeing those women helped me realize that I have the gift of being able to say, ‘I’m capable.’”
My sister graduated from Berkeley in 2015, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and was recently accepted to Master of Social Work programs at University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan.
As the years go by, the AML conference has opened new possibilities to young Latinas, where they are able to see women in their life, not as competition but as a support system they can always lean on.
“AML is a ‘call to action’ for all of us to support and celebrate each other’s gifts, passions, challenges, goals, and accomplishments,” said Stella Murga, former chair of Adelante Mujer Latina. “This is what AML is really all about – believing in and supporting our youth and each other.”
As a nineteen year-old Latina, who attends PCC and hopes to go to film school at New York University, this is what I mostly pay attention to: the opportunity to become stronger in my own skin through the help of other women.
AML has been a positive influence in our lives. Every moment spent volunteering for or attending the conference is an opportunity to instill self-love, community love, and empowerment.
I often call this a revolution because being involved has given me the power to continue to work towards my dream and support other Latinas along the way.
Thanks to Adelante Mujer Latina, I have come to love my culture and embrace that being Latina is as powerful as being alive.