Sunday, June 8, 2014

Latinas Who Launch Lives - An Interview With Maria Aponte, Activist, Author, Poet, Performing Artist, Educator

One of the greatest pleasures people should always acknowledge is meeting someone whose life's journey immediately impacts yours. To meet someone to look up to, who can mentor you and provide insight into the world at large is a priceless gift. In a world where we can so easily be made to feel marginalized and non-existent regardless of who we are, when we meet these people we find that we are in the presence of a pioneer in many ways.

I have always enjoyed meeting new people and when those people are known farther and wider than the circles I am familiar with it is exciting. For here is someone who fearlessly left "the nest", to go forth and "seek new experiences" beyond what they were taught and what they knew. Yes, I wanted to be just like them and when I met them I tried to soak in as much information of new things, as well as old customs, as I could.

These interviews are of such times. Welcome to my series of Latinas Who Launch Lives. For so many Latinas it seems we all have our set road to travel when it comes to family and along that road we find that circumstances veer us off and slams us into a life we would have never imagined. Along the way we meet iconic people or horrific people and we learn valuable lessons from them all. It shapes how we think, how we feel and how we proceed.

These women in this series used everything that was thrown at them to make a difference, not only for themselves and their families but also for their communities. They survive to tell the tale. They survive because they are not going to 'go off quietly or peacefully into the dark night'.

Maria Aponte


Community Arts Activist/Educator, Poet/Performance Artist, Maria works in Latino Theatre against racial discrimination and women’s rights. She has written and performed two one woman shows, Lagrimas de mis Madres an autobiographical play based on the women in her family, and I Will Not be Silenced based on the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Maria has performed her work at various colleges/universities and conferences locally and nationally.
She has been featured on Bronx Net, News 12 and NBC Latino. In 2010, Maria received the V-DAY Award for special recognition from the Eve Ensler Foundation for “someone who has suffered or witnessed violence, and then does extraordinary work to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else in their community.” In May 2013 Maria’s book, Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella won 2nd Place for Best Poetry in English at the International Latino Book Awards. Maria is a Career Counselor and Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives in Career Services at Fordham University. In May 2014 Maria received her Masters in Latin American and Latino Studies from Fordham University.

Maria is currently embarking on a new journey and is spearheading an event entitled Latinas Plus 50.

"In honoring these women I am creating an annual event that will highlight the selected Latina Women over Fifty who will be invited to a community gathering where they will have an opportunity to speak about their journeys of challenges and accomplishment. The women will be honored in their specific field, be it community activism, education, law or the arts. The inaugural Latina Fifty-Plus luncheon will be held on Saturday, June 21st , 2014 at Fordham University, Bronx Campus conjunction with the East Harlem Café, and I will be collaborating with La Casa Azul Bookstore to arrange press coverage for the event." ~ Maria Aponte

Interview With Maria Aponte

CMC: In a society that ostracizes women for getting older, does our traditional ways of reversing and respecting our elders clash or embrace women over 50?

Maria: In terms of ostracizing women for getting older I think that culturally we are in a transformation as to how society views women and aging. There seems to be a contradiction on how you are supposes to age, verses the idea that being youthful is still the cultural norm for acceptance. The whole concept of women aging and becoming acceptable is only about a decade old. And for as much as we publicly like to say that aging is becoming, it is not. When you look at the workforce and I say from the perspective that I work in a career counseling field, many older women and men are being phased out from their jobs because of age. When you work in a very youth oriented workforce the older woman tends to be shut out because they are placed in a category where they are related to the younger person’s parents age or what their concept of the older person should be and then the dynamics of interaction change.

As for our traditional ways of revering and respecting our elders and if our traditions respect or clash or embrace women over 50 depends on the person their background and family experience. In general, I feel that Latina women over 50 are expected to age a certain way and grow into the roles that traditionally has been held for older women. I think older women are embraced up to a certain extend. Again it goes back to the role that the woman has defined for herself from the very beginning in the family. So basically we are accepted for what we project to our families and to others. The tricky part is when one decides after several decades of doing the same thing and makes a decision to change, then it can become an issue for the rest of the family, friends. You are no longer in the familiar role that they know you for and that is the litmus test, will they accept the “new you” or not. Also, because we live in a more modernized version of what our parents and grandparents knew in terms of life style, cultural differences and interest I think that if a Latina over 50 is clear about what she wants then the support will come and should be there.

CMC: In your opinion, what do women over 50 have an advantage of over their younger sisters?

Maria: What women over 50 have over our younger sisters is time. And this is a personal comment not all women over 50 may feel this way. I feel that what we have is the wisdom of time. We have lived long enough to speak from that place of having had to deal with life in all its stages and have learned from our mistakes and are willing to move forward and let stuff go when we have to. I am not saying that younger women don’t I know some amazing younger women who are handling their lives very nicely and with strength. But there is something about being a woman in her 50‘s and older and the aging process that fortifies the spirit, especially after you have gone through menopause. There is a feeling of coming full circle with certain aspects of your life. That feeling of not doing enough or wondering if what you’re doing works passes. You are more settled in who and what you are. Because we have been through so many changes in terms of culture, society, history, modernization those life experiences do not come over night. I can certainly tell you that I don’t live nor think the way I did in my 20’s 30’s or 40’s. For me those were what I call the “life ladder lessons”. It was in learning how to deal with loss, death, and being alone that taught me how to be my best friend first. So imagine going through all of that and realize that you can have a certain kind of peace of mind that you value more than material things?

(PERSONAL NOTE: I love when mentors not only share their knowledge but also leave you with questions to ponder. Always take note. Did your mentor not only help you answer a few questions of your own but also set you on a further or new path? It is great when that happens)

Final question.

CMC: If you could please speak to the motivation and inspiration that moved you to begin this journey, can you tell us where would you like to see this event lead and progress to?

Maria: The reason I started Latina 50 Plus is because I felt that the voices of the Latina women over 50 was not being given that space to acknowledge their experiences. Particularly that my generation and older grew up in a time where it was not expected of us to be no more than what society wanted us to be. Our roles in life were delegated to being uneducated, working menial jobs and never to have the opportunity to go beyond high school let alone college. But that was not the way it was many of us went to college started careers were the groundbreakers for many social and cultural programs that started and are still in existence today, or have transformed into other programs. I wanted to create a program that would honor those women who stayed behind to make something work for their children and their community. Create a space for them to tell their stories and histories, especially their histories because history is slowly disappearing. I think it would be good for our younger sisters to learn from these women in their own words what it took to get to this place where information is dispensed instantly from those who put in those years of work and sacrifice to make life a lot easier for others today.

The future goal for Latina 50 Plus is to host an annual conference where Latina Elders will be invited to facilitate workshops where they can share their expertise in various career fields. Also, to start a scholarship fund for Latinas over 50 who may be in need to perhaps go back to school, take that art class, or self improvement workshop, Of course this is the concept and as the program grows this will be open to discussion. This is my vision as a Latina Elder and as someone who works with young folks all the time because I am surrounded by college age students and I hear their stories too. I want to leave them a blueprint and a map to the future and to let them know that with time it does get easier and life is meant to be lived with peace of mind and heart.


Thank you Maria Aponte.

Considering that I will be 50 shortly myself, this interview resonated with me on so many levels. As I am embarking on a voyage of rocky and frightening proportions, to meet such an individual as Maria always feels as if fate stepped in and reminded me that we have to seek out our next steps and solutions as they do not land in our laps as some would have you believe.

I was humbled and honored to be given some of Maria's time as she is busy and this new direction takes every moment she can allow outside of the rest of her life. Gracias hermana. May others, men and women, be made aware of the strides being made in this arena through your efforts and may you continue to impact the lives of people, whatever age, as you share your wisdom and your talents.

To support Maria in her latest endeavor, Latinas Plus 50, go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/latina-50-plus and donate to her crowdfunding campaign. The official website for this event is http://www.latina50plus.com/. See you at the event on June 21, 2014!

Carmen M. Colon is a mother, an engineer by trade, an education and childrens advocate, an author and a workshop facilitator on the topics of leadership, womens empowerment, career advancement and parenting.
She is writing a book on a series of "Dear Sons" letters to her three sons on an array of topics and issues and is conducting a set of interviews with Latinas whose personal journeys have impacted other lives beyond their own circles. It is called Latinas Who Launch Lives. Both books will be out early 2015.
Carmen's website is http://carmenmcolon.info
Carmen's books can be found online at both Amazon: http://amazon.com/author/carmencolon
and Barnes and Noble at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/carmen-m-colon.

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