OGDEN — Xitlali-Vanessa Ramirez was breathlessly excited as she stood backstage waiting to perform at the Latinos in Action Youth Leadership Conference Wednesday.
Ramirez, a ninth-grade student at Ogden Preparatory Academy, was getting ready to perform a traditional Afromexicano dance. Dressed in torn black clothing to represent years of oppression and red accents to represent blood and sacrifice, she said she was proud to give her people a voice.
“I’m doing this because my stepdad is in the audience and he’s Afromexicano and he had to cross the border to spend time with us and my mother who is fighting cancer,” she said.
Ramirez was one of about 1,300 junior high and high school students gathered at Weber State University for the event. A total of 33 schools were represented there.
Jonathan Morales, a sophomore at Weber State and LIA vice president for the second year in a row, looked around at the dozens of students milling around him in business attire.
“What I see is the future,” he said.
When Morales attended Bonneville High School, there wasn’t an LIA chapter and he said his mind was blown once he was introduced to the group in college.
“Everyone has a dream,” he said. “They might not have it in their head yet but with this conference, they can learn, life skills, they can learn them and apply them to their life.”
Isabel Rojas, a volunteer at the event who used to work for LIA and has helped organize the conference since 2016, said the goal of the conference is to inspire the youth who attend it and celebrate hispanic culture.
“The students, we have them come and look around and get them to start thinking, ‘Hey I could be here one day,’” Rojas said.
Student groups performed dances and gave speeches throughout the afternoon, including a group from Woods Cross High School who performed a traditional Tahitian dance.
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Astronaut José Hernandez, the keynote speaker, told students the story of his life and encouraged them to dream big and never give up on themselves.
“I did come from very humble beginnings and I’m very proud of my roots,” he said. “We should all be proud of our roots.”
In the audience, students Leslie Gonzales and Mariela Silva said they had spent the day learning about setting goals but had really enjoyed watching the dances and being together.
“You’re all the same, like you don’t feel like an outsider,” Gonzales said. “If you go somewhere you’re the only brown person and I don’t know, this just feels cool.”