Every year, International Womxn’s* Day compels us to reflect on the great strides made across the globe to advance gender equity and representation. We are also reminded of the work that still needs to be done. This day gives us space and encouragement to identify tangible ways to forge a gender equal world, celebrate womxn’s achievements, raise awareness against bias, and take action for gender justice.
For Chicago Scholar Cristal Caballero, International Womxn’s Day is every day. Cristal, who is a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, believes gender justice is “about waking up every day and deciding that we will take care of ourselves and each other.” Her work elevates the stories of Black and Latina Womxn, and offers encouragement and support for womxn challenging systemic and interpersonal discrimination. That’s why Cristal stepped up this year to represent La Casa Cultural Latina as Co-Chair of the annual Black and Latina Womxn Summit at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
The Black and Latina Womxn Summit “aims to ensure that each and every person in the room is able to take something home with them, whether it be a new lesson learned from our wonderful speakers and presenters or a new relationship that will create impactful collaborations in the future.”
Now in its fifth year, the Black and Latina Womxn Summit (BLWS) is a student-run summit open to all people interested in learning more about how womxn can collectively help each other make strides in professional development, academic success, and wellness. According to Cristal, the Summit “aims to ensure that each and every person in the room is able to take something home with them, whether it be a new lesson learned from our wonderful speakers and presenters or a new relationship that will create impactful collaborations in the future.” This year, the BLWS took place on February 29 and included workshop topics that spanned from writing love letters to oneself to advocating for sex workers rights. As this year’s Co-Chair, Cristal was excited to see the summit grow from 25 attendees in its first year to nearly 300 in its fifth.
While BLWS is primarily run by and for Black and Latina Womxn, Cristal encouraged members of all gender and racial identities to attend and participate. According to Cristal, the committee members and co-chairs “made an effort to reach out to different departments, students, and community-based organizations to invite them to the summit.” The inclusivity of the event encouraged critical dialogue about sex, racism, and gender equity among people of all identities. This year, attendees even included Chicago Scholars from neighboring universities. Cristal also invited both of her parents and translated workshop content to Spanish in real time. To her surprise, they both really enjoyed the workshop on destigmatizing sex work!
Cristal first became aware of the BLWS during her freshman year at Champaign’s La Casa Cultural Latina when she was invited to attend the first summit. Coming from a home environment in which she grew up among strong and empowered womxn—including her mother, Lorena, who is one of her greatest inspirations and advocates—Cristal naturally gravitated to spaces on campus created for and by other womxn.
At the first BLWS, Cristal was struck by the keynote speaker, Zahira Kelly-Babrera, an Afro-Dominicana artist, speaker, and activist, who encouraged audience members to hold on to their truth and to stand firmly in their power. Ever since, Cristal has committed herself to advocating for womxn and all marginalized peoples on her campus and in her home community. Her work involves creating space for collective support, and sharing her art and poetry; both fixating an unflinching spotlight on the injustices she sees, and elevating the voices of those paving the way for a more equitable society
“…the standing ovation was not for me, but rather every kid who has died on the streets.”
During this year’s BLWS, Cristal, “being in a space surrounded by powerful and phenomenal womxn,” felt comfortable to share her poetry publicly for the first time. Her poetry included a piece “Kevin Lives,” a tribute to her late friend Kevin Diaz, and to all members of Chicago and her community (63rd street in Chicago) who have died of gun violence. In her poem, she calls for the state to provide communities with more resources, radically imagining what Kevin’s and others’ lives could be, and what racial justice should look like for those living in the South Side of Chicago. At the end of the poem, the crowd stood up to applaud. Cristal felt “very humbled because the standing ovation was not for me, but rather every kid who has died on the streets.” You can watch Cristal’s moving performance on her LinkedIn page (Content Warning: Gun Violence).
“One thing that is certain is that I will always stay true to my beliefs, my culture, and my community.”
Being a Co-Chair of BLWS has meant a lot to Cristal. She sees it as a way to pay forward the groundwork of the summit’s creators. She was welcomed into this space and believes it’s only right to continue to usher in the next generation of Black Latina and Afro Latina leaders. While she is uncertain of where her future will lead her, she knows that she wants to play a role in building a Chicago in which “black and brown kids know that they matter and that their existence is important.” With unwavering conviction she adds, “One thing that is certain is that I will always stay true to my beliefs, my culture, and my community.”
*For this piece we use “womxn” intentionally to semantically untether gendered titles and identities from “man” and to advocate for greater inclusivity in gender equity movements for people with marginalized genders, including transgender and gender nonconforming people.
Cristal Caballero is a Junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Political Science with a minor in Global Studies and a concentration in Human Rights. She hails from the Chicago Lawn/Gage Park neighborhoods of Chicago. In addition to being an artist-activist, she enjoys playing soccer and creating her own stickers, keychains, and poems that encompass her various identities. You can find more of her artwork on her Instagram page @c.crstl.