Latina of The Year award honors artist, longtime educator

La Latina Network, an organization that promotes higher education for Latina women, recently announced that this year's recipient of its Latina of the Year award is artist Imna Arroyo — a retired printmaking professor who still teaches independent studies courses at Eastern Connecticut State University.

"I felt amazing," said Arroyo, describing her reaction to the award announcement. "I've been an educator for a long time, so to receive such an award is incredibly meaningful."

La Latina Network is a program of The Hispanic Alliance, an organization dedicated to advancing and highlighting Hispanic contributions in southeastern Connecticut.

A Puerto Rican artist of African descent, Arroyo has focused her work upon the significance of mixed racial and ethnic identities. Through an intense study of the Yoruba culture, an ethnic group of southwestern Nigeria and Benin, Arroyo has traveled throughout the Americas, the Caribbean and Africa to recognize the importance of her own mixed identity. She is preparing for a show in El Museo De Las Américas, San Juan, Puerto Rico, scheduled to open in September 2020.

"In America you cannot be Puerto Rican — you're Latino," said Arroyo, noting in the United States there is a tendency to lump different ethnic groups under one label and discount the importance of each individual ethnic identity. "You have to figure out who you are despite a mixed heritage — your identity has to be one thing."

Arroyo also emphasizes the importance of recognizing the accomplishments of Latina women in a culture that attempts to belittle their accomplishments. "We all exist. It's paramount that we all have a voice and are seen because Latinas tend to feel invisible," she said.

In recognition of her work and artistry, La Latina Network has named her Latina of the Year and acknowledges her as an example of a prominent Latina woman.

Migdalia Salas, vice president of advancement and programming for the Hispanic Alliance, highlighted this need for visibility and notes that the accomplishments of noteworthy Latinas provide Latina youth with positive mentors. "It is very important for our youth to not just study white American history, but to study the significance of their own heritage and to see leaders who look like them," she said. "The Hispanic Alliance works to ensure that Latina women feel proud of who they are."

Maria Amparo Cruz-Saco Oyague, a founder of the Hispanic Alliance, noted Arroyo's training at Yale University and said, "Imna is a brilliant Latina artist and a distinguished educator whose contributions have been recognized nationally and internationally."

The Hispanic Alliance hopes that, through celebrating prominent Latina women, the Latina youth in Southeastern Connecticut will be inspired to take on leadership roles, as well.

"La Latina of the year is a moment to honor our Latina background and identity," Cruz-Saco Oyague said.

"New London is very lucky to have organizations like the Hispanic Alliance and La Latina Network," Arroyo said. "Organizations that serve the community and provide opportunities and support in the different areas of health, education, arts and culture. What would our society be without such amazing programs?"

She will receive her award during a reception on Oct. 24 at the Crocker House, 170 State St., New London. Anyone who would like to attend can buy a ticket for a suggested donation of $25 at www.hispanicalliance.net. All proceeds go to the Latina Youth Higher Education Scholarship. The recipient of this year's scholarship also will be announced at the event, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

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