As Evelyn Mantilla recently discussed the importance of January 20th’s Women’s March Connecticut 2018 for the state’s Latino population, the former state legislator wondered where she had stored the pink “pussyhat” she wore at last year’s national Women’s March on Washington, D.C.
These knitted or crocheted hats with their catlike design gained iconic stature as symbols of opposition to newly inaugurated President Trump’s policies and disgust with his sexual misconduct, about which he boasted in the infamous Billy Bush tape.
The pussyhats are likely to be highly visible again Saturday in Hartford, as will be Latinas, both as speakers and entertainers, at the ensuing rally on the rear steps of the state Capitol and, organizers hope, among the marchers.
Elby Gonzalez Schwapp (left) and Evelyn Mantilla on bus to 2017 Women’s March on Washington, DC
In reaching out to the state’s large Latino community, Mantilla and other march supporters stress that it is especially important for this population to demonstrate their opposition.
“Our very existence in this country is at stake and we are being attacked on many fronts,” said Mantilla, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up and was politically active in Hartford and now lives in West Hartford. She cited the lack of protection for the DACA students and the inadequate support for hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.
The Hartford marchers will gather at the Bushnell Park fountain and at noon head to the nearby Capitol for a program scheduled to run from 1 to 3 p.m.
The Women’s March Connecticut 2018 is one of several similar gatherings scheduled for January 20 across the nation that essentially are the next step for the women who helped set up the massive gathering that took place Jan. 21, 2017, the day after the Trump inauguration, on the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial and, in Connecticut, arranged for buses to transport people to Washington.
“We want to grow the movement,” said Mantilla, who with another former state legislator, Ilia Castro, helped launch Latinas in Resistance last year. The goal of this organization is to make sure Latinas would continue to have a role and a voice in the anti-Trump activism that demonstrated at the nation’s capital and at marches held that day in Hartford and around the world.
“In the last year, we have clearly made progress,” she said, and added that what has been “most exciting is the fact so many people have become involved that ordinarily would have not been. We grew a lot of new leaders and more women are running for office.”
Among the Connecticut Latinas who have come to the forefront is Yolanda Castillo, who in November became the first Latina elected to Manchester’s governing body. She plans to attend the Hartford march.
Castillo, a longtime Latino activist and leader of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, also stressed the need to continue the resistance’s momentum. “Last year, the year of the woman was victorious throughout the country and here in Connecticut,” she said, “but there is still plenty of work to be done and we are ready and hope others will join in the struggle.”
While the primary drivers of the Hartford march are women, Mantilla said many men are among its supporters. These include Bishop John L. Selders Jr. of Hartford who is one of the leaders Moral Monday CT, a statewide coalition advocating the Black Lives Matter movement.
In addition, Jason Ortiz, chairman of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda, also has worked closely with march organizers. He said the Agenda is focused on mobilizing Puerto Ricans to attend and will contribute at least one speaker, Wildaliz Bermudez, a member of the Hartford City Council and the leader of its Working Family minority.
Bermudez, who has pursued equality in education since her childhood, will share the podium with other women, including state legislators and leaders of the African-American and the LGBT communities, who have been in the forefront of political, education and social activism, especially in causes relevant to women such as reproductive rights, sexual harassment and human trafficking. Other topics to be covered are police violence against people of color, immigration and the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and recovery of hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, Mantilla said.
One of the Latinas scheduled to speak is Lydia Herrera who been cooking for the displaced Puerto Ricans who are currently being sheltered at the Red Roof Inn in Hartford, Mantilla said, and is being helped by members of Latinas in the Resistance.
The other Latinas on the program include Mantilla, who was the first openly bisexual elected official in the nation when she served in the state legislator from 1997 to 2007; Kindra Fontes-May, a union activist and member of Latinas in the Resistance; Barbara Lopez, a student, social justice and union activist and member of Make the Road CT; Stephanie Marquez, a UConn nursing student and member of Connecticut Students for a Dream; attorney Yazmin Rodriquez, of Esperanza Center for Law and Advocacy, who has been helping immigrants; and state Rep. Hilda Santiago of Meriden, a longtime supporter of Latino equality.
The Hartford rally’s goal is to bring together those who want to have a positive effect on civil rights and other issues, Mantilla said, adding, “We are here with wide open arms.”