Arianna Huffington and Angelica Perez-Litwin, at the NCLR Conference
Today, Arianna Huffington, the president and editor-in-chief of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, delivered the keynote address at the Latinas Brunch of the 2011 NCLR (National Council of La Raza) Conference. Amidst a room filled with over 1,800 Latinos of all ages, nationalities and professional background, this influential social icon stood in front of us and immediately felt like one of us.
No, Arianna Huffington is not Latina (she’s Greek American), but she shares with us a common denominator — personal life stories marked by perseverance, strength and sacrifice — the immigrant experience. She’s undeniably a connoisseur of the American dream, a triumphant woman that encapsulates and symbolizes the immigrant spirit.
She spoke about her mother, who sold her last pair of earrings to pay for her school. Who doesn’t have a Latina mother who hasn’t sacrificed herself to bestow her children with opportunities she did not have? And then there is the accent. Her opening remark during the keynote speech produced a collective laughter when she joked about how wonderful it was to be surrounded by other people with accents.
Arianna spoke candidly about failures, rejections and hurdles, but with one very clear message: don’t give up on yourself.
As I listened to this very familiar voice, it became clear to me that, as we move forward as a Latino force in this country, we ought to share and give voice to our personal stories — that perhaps ethnic/racial/political/social labels matter less than the common threads between our collective personal narratives. And it made me wonder: Could this simple act of sharing serve as the fertile grounds for creating compassionate diversity in this country? Perhaps.
Half-way through her speech, Arianna shared a mother-daughter moment in her life — one that resonated deeply with me. She told us about the day, as a young teen, when she came to her mother and announced that she wanted to go to college in Cambridge. Her mother’s answer: “Why not?,” and with her mother’s enthusiastic blessings, Arianna went on to pursue her studies in London.
About 2 years ago, my now 17-year teen daughter came to me and excitedly told me that she wanted to study abroad, in London. My answer to her was: “Why?,” with undeniable confusion and anxiety. My over-protective maternal instincts managed to muffle my usual unconditional support for her personal growth. Since then, those conversations have always been uncomfortable, especially as her college application days get closer.
But Arianna’s story sparked an immediate reaction in me. At 11:43AM this morning, I sent my daughter the following text message:
“I totally want you to apply to Cambridge. Let’s talk!”
My daughter’s immediate text reply: “WOOOOH!”
And that’s the infectious empowerment of story telling.