Jackie Ortiz for City Council

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Latina rally inspires girls to greatness

By Sarah Taddeo/Democrat and Chronicle

The celebration of quinceañera at the end of Saturday’s ¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina! Rally in some ways symbolized the message organizers had for about 150 girls at the event.

The rally, in its 15th year, was meant to inspire girls of Latina heritage, ages 7 to 18, to become women of character and community engagement, and to empower them to pursue college and careers.

Quinceañera is a rite-of-passage ceremony for 15-year-old girls in Latino culture, although some girls choose not to have one. The event can be as elaborate as a wedding, and commemorates the girl maturing into a woman.

“We’re empowering young Latina women to imagine what’s possible for them,” said event co-chair Sady Fischer. “They need to know there are no limits for them.”

The rallies are always held at local colleges — University of Rochester hosted this year — and girls can take tours to get a sense of the local campuses.

The event's title translates to "I am unique! I am Latina!" in English, and its theme this year was “Civic Engagement: Latinas and Community Service, Giving Back and Making a Difference.”

“There are a number of ways a young woman can participate in her community, whether it’s politics, writing or something artistic,” said Jacklyn Ortiz, a Rochester city councilwoman who shared her life story with the audience.

She wanted the girls to understand they could make a difference in civic life at any age, through efforts like neighborhood cleanups or clothing collections, and they wouldn’t be alone.

“Although we are all different, we have many similarities, and maybe grew up in the same neighborhoods,” she said.

Throughout the rally day, girls participated in age-specific workshops where they learned about other women in politics or other public service positions. The event theme was tied into this year’s 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in New York state.

“This is an educational opportunity, given the rich history of civic engagement here in Rochester,” said John Cullen of the Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester.

The event wrapped up with a fashion show displaying flowing quinceañera dresses from local store Jane’s Fashions and Bridal.

Idaisis Despaigne, 14, of Rochester couldn’t contain her excitement as she watched her friend Natalia Montes float by in a larger-than-life ruffled quinceañera dress.

The girls said attending ¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina! rallies gave them confidence to forge ahead with their dreams.

“It shows that we as Latinas are as important to society as everyone else,” Idaisis said. “We matter.”