The Athens Immigrants Rights Coalition held a roundtable discussion on Oct. 1 for National Hispanic Heritage Month

Halfway through National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition hosted a roundtable on Oct. 1 at the Athens-Clarke County Library to discuss identity ahead of its LatinxFestAth 2018.

Titled “Hablemos,” a Spanish word meaning “let’s talk,” the event brought together members of Hispanic, Latinx and Afro-Latino communities to discuss what those words mean to the people they describe.

AIRC is a coalition of local organizations focused on immigrants issues regardless of legal status, involving groups such as U-lead Athens, Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition and Dignidad Inmigrante En Athens.

Starting at 6 p.m., the event centered around a panel of Latinx-identifying individuals with a variety of backgrounds in academia and public service speaking on their identity and related experiences. Moderated by AIRC coordinator Beto Mendoza, the panel answered prepared questions as well as those from audience members.

Among the seven panelists was Georgia District 117 Rep. Deborah Gonzalez. At the event, Gonzalez described her experience in being in office as causing her to speak the most Spanish she has spoken in her life, as Spanish-speaking constituents across the state recognized her last name as a potential source of familiarity via identity.

“I can’t deny that I’m a woman, and I can’t deny that I’m Latina,” Gonzalez said. “There’s only three Latinos in the Georgia Assembly … I think it’s that idea of affiliation, that if they see you as maybe being one of their own then maybe they feel comfortable coming to you for an issue.”

Yolanda Machado, an AIRC board member and University of Georgia doctoral candidate, also sat on the panel. Machado said words surrounding identity can be a source of unity but must also be used in a way that is sufficiently inclusive.

“Being Latina is a sense of solidarity with other Latino groups,” Machado said. “We are using now the term Latinx to be more inclusive because it is not gendered and because we have different ideas of what Latino is.”

After an hour of prepared panel questions, the second half of the event centered on audience questions, as those in attendance shared their thoughts on varying terms of identity. Questions probed into what things like language, food and community mean to both one’s personal identity and how others may identify them.

AIRC’s next event will be LatinxFestAth 2018, a cultural celebration in downtown Athens on Oct. 13, the first in the organization’s nine-year history running the event to take up street space in Athens.

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