SAYA's 4th Annual Young Women's Leadership Conference: Culture Con 2k17

By Sabrina, 11th grade

On Saturday May 20th, 2017 Culture Con 2K17: Embracing our Experiences, Shaping our Identities took place at SAYA. This event was a result of two months of hard work by SAYA’s Desi Young Women's Leadership group. We learned how to organize and facilitate every detail of the conference. 

The day started off with registration and breakfast, followed by our empowering keynote speaker Sayu Bhojwani, who is also the founder of SAYA. She spoke about her immigrant experience and the importance of contributing to the cultures around us. 

Next, the breakout workshops took place. The three workshops were:
Is it Appropriate?: Cultural Stereotyping and Appropriation
Beauty is not a Duty: Women, Gender and Culture
Third Culture Kids: Sharing and Creating Culture

Participants got to choose which two workshops they wanted to attend. I was a catalyst in both sessions of Beauty is not a Duty, which meant that I helped the facilitators run the workshop by engaging with the other participants. It was an empowering experience being able to provide my insight on my personal ideals of beauty, interacting with other young women and each of us brainstorming ideas and sharing our opinions. We also had the opportunity to produce drawings that portray our personal philosophies of beauty.

Lisha, Loviena, Briana, and Liset were the facilitators of this workshop. They were extremely energetic and confident. In the first session, we discussed the hazards of an individual becoming too obsessed with their appearance to the extent that it affects other life goals. Briana provided an example of how one of her friends would not leave the house without her false eyelashes, and it even affected her academics. Participants gave their own examples and facilitators distinguished between healthy and unhealthy practices. For example, getting gastric bypass surgery or losing weight for the primary purpose of better health, versus gastric bypass surgery or losing weight due to societal pressure and body image disorder. 

In the second session, we started off with an icebreaker, which was introducing ourselves to someone we don’t know. The girl I spoke to, Monira, was extremely warm and friendly. Upon speaking to her, I found out we shared the same cultural background and that she came to the U.S. only a few years ago. At one point, we even spoke in Bangla. 

Then we all drew what beauty means to us personally. I drew an outline of the brain and wrote: empathy, intelligence, devotion, humility, and kindness, because the brain is an in internal organ and these characteristics to me are internal aspects of beauty. Then we were counted off and put in groups. Each member of the group shared what they drew and elaborated as to how their drawing depicts their idea of beauty. The facilitators also shared their own drawings with us. At the end of the session, we posted our drawings together onto a large board titled "Beauty Is..." so that we could co-create our own open and diverse definition of beauty. 

After the end of the two sessions, we had lunch. There were ethnic dishes from various parts of the world, including Ethiopian vegan cuisine, Middle Eastern kabobs and falafel, Japanese sushi and Nepali dishes. After lunch there was an energetic dance performance by William Cullen Bryant High School's K-pop Dance group. Then participants spent two hours trying different fun activities, like dancing to cultural music, taking pictures with friends in the photo booth, contributing to a community painting, and applying henna and temporary tattoos.

The afternoon ending with cake cutting and receiving SAYA Culture Con 2017 t-shirts. It was a privilege being able to organize this event with my fellow SAYA Desi Young Women’s Leadership peers. I look forward to attending the next event.

*SAYA's Desi Young Women's Leadership Conference was made possible through support from the NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color, managed and housed by the New York Women's Foundation.