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Published September 26, 2018
When Ada Montaño Mushati attended her first Wyoming Latina Youth Conference as an eighth-grader nearly a decade ago, she was shocked to see a room full of young women with the same skin color as hers.
“When I went the first year, it was eye-opening for me to see a bunch of women who looked just like me in a state where there are a lot of people who don’t look like me,” says the University of Wyoming student from Sheridan. “To go to a conference where everyone looked like me, to see a lot of people who had similar stories and backgrounds as mine, and then to see the older versions of us in the future say, ‘I have this degree, I did this with my life’ -- this is what I’m working for now.”
For Mushati, who is pursuing her second bachelor’s degree in sociology after receiving a degree in psychology, the goal is to give back to young Wyoming Latinas, telling them they can achieve anything in life through academics. That is what she personally learned attending the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference (WLYC) for five years, beginning as a Sheridan eighth-grader.
“To be in a position now, where I get to do that for someone else, is really exciting for me,” Mushati says. “For me to be able to tell girls it’s not going to be easy -- I can now tell them it was hard, but I did it and you also can.”
She will take that message to the 18th annual statewide WLYC Oct. 12-13 on the UW campus.
“It is very empowering for me to sit there in a room and see all these women who look like you and who are doing all these great things; you feel so powerful. It’s a feeling that you don’t get very often in your regular school setting,” Mushati says. “Growing up, sometimes you go unnoticed. You don’t get the same experiences as everyone else. You’re not going through the same things as everyone else at home.
“The Latina culture is very different,” she continues. “There are just a lot of things in the mix that when you go to this conference and see all these people, that it’s such a great experience to feel that empowered. It’s a completely different experience from anything that you will see.”
The WLYC is an annual celebration of "the power of choice,” says WLYC Executive Director Cecelia Aragon, a UW professor of theater and dance and head of UW Latina/o Studies.
The conference’s Friday, Oct. 12, banquet and the Saturday, Oct. 13, daylong workshops are specifically geared toward Latina students in grades 5-12.
“However, we welcome any and all young women who may be interested in participating,” Aragon says.
WLYC is an educational pipeline program at UW focused on empowering at-risk young Latinas through mentorship and exposure to higher education. After many years being held in Cheyenne, the conference has permanently moved under the umbrella of UW. Nearly 200 young Latinas from throughout the state are expected to attend this year.
The theme for this fall’s conference is “Embracing Leadership, Science and Creativity.” Students will participate in a variety of workshops to discuss topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; healthy relationships; identity; creativity; and leadership.
Mushati serves as an administrative assistant for the WLYC as part of her undergraduate internship, working with Aragon. One of her roles will be to assist in organizing the conference and serve as a mentor for attendees.
“I am now in a position where I can be an example for achieving academic and professional goals,” she says. “It’s being in that position where I can show girls that it can be done. It’s hard, but it can be done.”
Aragon says Mushati and her sister, Heidi Montaño, are models for WLYC. Both are “high-achieving, highly motivated, ambitious young Latinas.” Mushati plans to attend graduate school when she graduates from UW and wants to become an elementary school counselor. Montaño received her undergraduate degree from UW and master’s degree from the University of Southern California. She is the addiction disorder services intensive outpatient program coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Sheridan.
Mushati’s parents are supporters of WLYC. Her father, Mario Montaño, a Sheridan High School Spanish teacher, has helped to support Sheridan-area Latina youth to attend the conference, and her mother, Maria Montaño, will chaperone students for the latest event.
The conference’s keynote speaker at the banquet is Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez, a storyteller, theologian and feminist from Nashville, Tenn., and owner and founder of the “Latina Rebels” blog. She also is a contributing writer for Huffington Post. She received her master of divinity degree from Vanderbilt University.
WLYC’s guest artist is Jay Martis, from El Paso, Texas. Her artwork will be highlighted at the conference, and she will conduct a workshop for attendees.
Registration for the WLYC is $35 for students before Oct. 4 and $50 after that date. The fee includes all conference events, an evening banquet dinner, and breakfast and lunch Oct. 13.
The registration form and full schedule of events are available online at www.uwyo.edu/wlyc/.
The banquet, which begins at 6 p.m. in the UW Conference Center, is open to the public at a cost of $50 per person. Reservations are required by emailing email@example.com.
For more information, call Aragon at (307) 766-2164 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.