ALASKA LATINO STARS A Latina Champion, Ana Richards One label does not de ne multiracial and multicultural identities
BY ITZEL YARGER ZAGAL
Ana Richards, Photo: Itzel Yarger
From the sunny Panamanian skies to the northern lights of Fairbanks, Ana Richards has championed the promotion of tolerance and diversity. Her work has earned awards from the City of Fairbanks, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (where she currently works), and other organizations. Ana’s mother died when she was very young, so her father, a first-generation Jamaican immigrant working for the US agricultural company Chiquita, raised her. At that time Panamanians lived in government-imposed racial segregation. In that context, her father taught her that dialogue is necessary to create empathy among people. Just by talking he managed to change the mind of a man who said he “hated blacks” and befriend him.
Ana finds that while many people have good intentions, for some these are undermined by prejudice. She remembers when her fifth grade teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. When Ana’s turn came, the teacher struck her hand and ordered her to straighten her afro. She was going to say that she wanted to become a teacher, too. Ana achieved her dreams, and now teaches her students to discover the painful stereotypes that live within us. The fifth grade teacher now considers Ana one of her best students.
Being an Afro-Latina woman is a source of pride for Ana, but one label does not define her multiracial and multicultural identity. This is also true for many children in Alaska, who are not simply Latin American or Spanish-speakers. These multiple identities, Ana suggests, must be recognized and heard in the community dialogue.
Ana’s advice to women is to organize groups of both young and adult women, and make for them a space to share their experiences and wisdom; for these, Ana says, are to be shared and not taken to the grave. This is especially important in a place as remote as Alaska, where we may lack an extended family. Although she misses the warm weather of Panama, she finds in Alaska a quiet place that makes her feel connected with nature, with God, with the universe, and with her mother.
At the end of the interview, Ana told us: “In my life, with its good experiences and not so good, I have grown, matured and maintained my humility. Leaving aside the awards, when a former student comes and tells me that I changed his life for good, that moves my heart.” Ana’s favorite phrase: “you never know when you are creating a memory.”
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