National Dominican Student Conference
By Manuel Aquiles Lopez
What will it hurt to step out of my comfort zone to go and meet a todos mis primos? It's like preparing to attend the family reunion to see those individuals you haven't seen in so long. I sat through contemplation wondering what will occur and slept through subconscious ideas of what I will do. Along with that mixture came a tossed feeling of nerves and anxiety that eventually took me to the road in which I am now traveling on as a student, heading for my professional destination.
The motto for the 3rd National Dominican Student Conference was "turning students into professionals," and that is exactly what I left with.
Ever since the first conference took place, I had intensions on going because I obviously pertained to that community of students that it was catering to. It wasn't until now, two years later, that I gained enough insight that led me to go. I felt that the conference would be very intimidating and overwhelming within its culture. Surprisingly enough, it was not too much culture, and I should have known that being a Dominican, but I was being a bit hesitant. Also, it was everything but intimidating because we were all there gathered with a common purpose, which was to help empower the uprising Dominican student population through our unity.
Every little thing contributed to the overall experience of the conference and it clearly showed through all aspects as well. I was able to detect how hard the host school, City College of New York, and their committee, "DominiCuny", worked because everything was very well put together and ran smoothly. These students worked diligently for over 10 months in order to set up a successful and professionally organized system of events. Even the environment was professional from the moment you walked into the hall with its grandeur presence of a gothic cathedral, to the set up with center pieces of platanos, mangos, y aguacates which in turn gave us a sense of "home."
We were fortunate enough to have “home” brought to us not only through décor, but through the food that was provided for us at the conference such as a Mangu breakfast which is a traditional Dominican plate. Another exceptional way “home” was brought to the conference was the effort the hosts put towards outreach in order to bring student attendees straight from the Dominican Republic. Along with them, we were also presented with several honorable keynote speakers. Two of the most moving speakers were Senator Juan Pichardo and Alejandro Santos. Senator Juan Pichardo is the first Dominican American to be elected to a State Senate in the United States. His words were truly inspirational especially to see Dominican American professionals reaching new heights. Along with that, Alejandro Santos is the Secretary of State of the Dominican Republic and to have representatives come straight from the Dominican Republic and speak to us at the conference was truly an honor to be a part of.
For the most part, the learning aspect of it all is the most memorable for me. I was able to attend workshops that had professional Dominicans as panelists in the areas that I am interested in. The workshops I attended were able to expose me to information about Dominican history, culture, and identity that I did not know before. Along with that, I was also able to get more insight from professional Dominican entrepreneurs and their journey to starting their own careers. As a student pursuing a Bachelor Degree with Individual Concentration in Artistic Business Entrepreneurship, being able to attend these workshops was a true learning experience and gave me more insight as a future Dominican entrepreneur.
Some of the panelists that stood out for me were those in the workshop of “Dominicans in the Arts.” Amongst them were Annecy Baez and Vanessa Martir who are both published authors. The message that motivated and sparked a new light within me was their persistent chase of pursuing what they really wanted to do. A quote that Martir mentioned and stuck with me was “Find your own voice and don’t be afraid to use it.” As a writer of poetry myself, it really inspired me to see these two successfully published Latina authors speaking about their careers and it influenced me to continue with my passion of the arts.
Out of all the learning experiences that I gained out of the conference, the one that stood out above all the rest was the fact that we were able to see an exclusive showing of an independent film that has not been shown anywhere else but at the New York International Film Festival. The film was “60 Millas al Este” (60 Miles East) by Jorge Lendeborg and it was a true eye opening experience. We were able to see a documentary of those Dominicans who risk their lives and leave everything behind to make a dangerous trip across the Caribbean Sea over to the island of Puerto Rico in hopes of becoming successful. It is so moving because although I knew about such events taking place, never have I experienced it nor seen it happening. So being able to see this documentary of some Dominicans who decided to take that risk at first hand was just completely revolutionary for me.
Over all, I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the 3rd National Dominican Student Conference and be sponsored by the Bilingual Collegiate Program. This conference showed me that as a Dominican student, we need to be proud of our community and help preserve our culture throughout the rise of our population here in the United States. We need to unite and work together as Dominican professionals to continuously push forward the agenda for what our community faces through social and academic issues. There is no doubt about the fact that my eyes have a different perspective on life as a Dominican American student striving to be a professional.