Mothers and daughters bond at ‘¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!’ workshop

COLUMBIA — A special workshop, “¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!” (I Am Unique! I Am Latina!), brought Hispanic/Latina girls and their mothers together for a day of learning, sharing and bonding March 19.

The workshop, an installment in the series “Exito Para Nuestra Gente” (Success for Our People), was part of a Hispanic grant initiative from the Sisters of Charity Foundation. The City of Columbia’s Commission on Children and Youth collaborated in the effort by providing the Keenan House for the location.

“¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!” was designed to provide useful information while opening the lines of communication between mothers and daughters. It also encouraged them to celebrate their Hispanic heritage and culture. Approximately 60 participants took part.

Maria Smoak, director of Hispanic Ministries at St. Peter Church, planned and directed the conference. The speakers, all successful Hispanic women, presented a variety of topics and led lively discussions with the participants.

The morning began with a photo session. Each girl had her picture taken but was not told why. The answer was divulged when the youths were given a bilingual workbook, “¿Quién Soy?”  (Who Am I?), with her photo on the front. The book is published by the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information and covers topics such as self-esteem, values, goal-setting, and planning for the future.

Smoak, a native of Cuba, led the first session which focused on self-esteem. She guided the girls through several activities aimed at helping them to recognize who they are, how they view themselves, and how they relate to others.

Margarita Martin of Colonial Supplemental Insurance presented the second workshop, “Educación y la Mujer Latina” (Education and the Latina Woman). Martin is a native of Cuba and a former educator who has lived and traveled throughout Latin America. Her experience with foreign students and some of the issues they face when trying to pursue an education in the United States provided insight and motivation for these young women and their mothers.

She provided facts and statistics to encourage and support the need for these young women to pursue an education.

Susana Le Texier, a native of Spain and an independent consultant with Mary Kay cosmetics, spoke about skin care and the art of applying make-up. She used volunteer models to demonstrate techniques and all the participants were given product samples to take home.

The women also heard a real-life story that they could all relate to because it was so similar to many of their own. Mari Hernandez-Tuten is a native of Mexico and founder and director of L.E.E.R., a non-profit organization that works with Hispanic children and their families. She shared her own family’s story. She explained that though her parents were of humble origins they put great emphasis on their children’s education, which allowed them to attend college and obtain their degrees. She said that she is the first in her family to have ever attended college.

Her story was an inspiration to her audience.

The next workshop was presented in a breakout session format, in which two topics were presented simultaneously with the mothers and daughters listening to different speakers. Each speaker presented her topic again to the second group. This was done so that the presenters could tailor their remarks to each audience.

Dr. Lidia Navarrete and Dr. Myriam Torres spoke at these sessions. Dr. Navarrete, a physician and native of El Salvador, discussed the need to maintain open lines of communication between mothers and daughters, the importance of respecting one’s self, and the dangers and consequences of risky behavior among teens.

Dr. Torres, a native of Colombia, is an epidemiologist with the University of South Carolina whose research in the areas of alcohol and drug abuse is highly respected. Her discussion with the teens and their mothers focused on the hazards of alcohol use and peer pressure.

Before the end of the workshop, the mothers were presented with a bilingual book titled “Consejos de la Abuelita” (Advice from Grandmother), which offers guidance on dealing with the issues of everyday life as parents attempt to raise healthy, happy children.

Each participant received a certificate of completion and a colorful T-shirt boldly proclaiming “¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!”