I have always been a watcher, a silent observer who studies people and places. However, when I took part in The College of New Jersey WILL (Women in Learning and Leadership) delegation in June, I knew being silent would not suffice. To simply observe the thought-provoking presentations and insightful conversations would have done a disservice to my cultural immersion and my own self-evolution.
I was surrounded by a sea of activists who were certainly vocal about their experiences and their work. So, I decided to engage in any form whether it was vocally or just mentally, with any and all speakers. Reflecting back on that decision, it was singlehandedly the most important one I have ever made in my life.
Violence against women has never been solely a women’s issue for me; it has always been and will always remain personal. As I listened to Ms. Karla Rojas speak about her commitment to end domestic violence and sexual assault, I tried to place myself in her position. Karla witnessed domestic violence firsthand and decided that she could no longer tolerate it in the world. Many people make the same commitment with tired eyes and heavy hearts, but Karla was different. She acted quickly, becoming a police officer and patrolling neighborhoods that were rampant with abuse and toxic environments. As I observed her presentation filled with shocking statistics, I knew the passion I witnessed in her eyes was the same one I felt in my mind and in my heart. She was the activist that I knew I had to imitate.
It may have been the intimate atmosphere or the delicious dragon fruit juice I was drinking, but I finally decided to do something: I asked a question. Before I knew it, that question veered into a personal story shared by Ms. Rojas, and suddenly we were all having a genuine conversation. To me, that moment was my true cultural immersion with the exchange of languages and knowledge. Instead of just digesting information and statistics, we had an opportunity to understand and communicate our thoughts and passions as students, feminists, and activists. I no longer felt afraid to speak up about injustices or the roots of social, political, and cultural issues.
During my stay in Quaker House, I often passed by a poster of Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came For the Socialists…” Reflecting back on it now, I cannot help but smile. Your voice is a tool that when channeled correctly, can change the world. Without ProNica and the Nicaragua Solidarity Project, I would never have truly found my voice.