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Opening Plenary Session
Living a Life of Openness - Listening to Children, Listening to Difference
"It took me a long time to get comfortable with my heritage," Maria Hinojosa revealed. "I was a Mexican growing up in the Midwest - on the south side of Chicago. I didn't see much of 'me' anywhere. I was 'Mexican' in this country and 'Latina gringa' in Mexico. Diversity was part of my life from the very beginning." As she grew up, Hinojosa remembered listening to the words of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and John F. Kennedy and feeling respected and empowered. She began really listening to the stories people around her had to tell, and she began to tell her own stories. "You can always learn something from someone else," Hinojosa said, "even people with whom you seem to have little in common."
In remarks rich with stories, Hinojosa stressed the importance of engaging in dialogues across race, class, and gender. She also highlighted the importance of dialogue with our children. "In the aftermath of the Columbine killings," she said, "I heard one youth say that the hug of relief he got from his parents was the first hug he'd had in six months. How can children who have so much, have so little?"
Census data show that our country is changing, Hinojosa continued, and how we respond is up to us - whether we live in fear or accept the change as inevitable and enriching. "We have to engage in dialogues without fear," she stated. "We have to find that common ground of humanity - that safe place for dialogue where we can find the humanness in each one of us. When each of us across the country enters into that space of safety and security, of being able to listen without judgment, then maybe we can move forward without fear, but with joy and open arms."