Latinx Americans need to be proud and fight against negative stereotypes, Alejandra Castillo, president and CEO of YWCA, said during a Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff Tuesday afternoon.
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs hosted the open event, where around 50 students and faculty gathered to listen to the LBJ School alumna speak about her journey as a Latina immigrant and woman growing up in the U.S. and changing attitudes toward Latinx communities in the United States.
Castillo said her speech’s timing is critical as the country debates policy matters such as immigration, criminal justice reform and the environment.
“A lot of the social justice issues that we have grappled with are now much more heightened,” Castillo said. “The principles that LBJ espoused are being tested, so for me, coming and speaking to the students was of paramount importance.”
Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, director of civic engagement at the LBJ School, said the school is training the nation’s next generation of leaders and wants students to see their potential through Castillo’s leadership.
“She is one of the foremost voices in Latino advocacy, one of the foremost voices for communities of color, and within that, women in particular,” DeFrancesco Soto said.
Castillo said her organization is the largest organization in the country that provides services to survivors of gender-based domestic violence.
“When I see a mother who comes to me and says, ‘YWCA saved my daughter’s life,’ we choke — it brings tears,” Castillo said. “If that’s not a testament that I am on the right path, I don’t know what is.”
Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates contributions, like Castillo’s, from the Latinx community to the United States, according to the school.
Edda Pleitez, a Salvadoran American global policy graduate student, said for her, Hispanic Heritage Month means appreciating the beauty in people’s differences.
Pleitez said the term “Hispanic” draws controversy because it historically excluded indigenous persons and people of color within the Latinx community, but she said she is always there to support those who deal with that battle.
“Hopefully, over time, that heals,” Pleitez said. “At the end of the day, events like this are still bringing these issues and these groups of people to light.”
Of her dual Hispanic American identity, Castillo said both exist within her.
“Neither side over the other, they make me whole (and) a much more complete individual,” Castillo said.