Kim Guerra found her voice through the arts, and later turned her small business into a movement that empowers women in the Latino community.

During the keynote speech for the University of Idaho’s Latinx Heritage Month, delivered over Zoom on Thursday evening, Guerra focused on the importance of self-love and embracing one’s identity to combat internalized oppression.

Born in Los Angeles, Guerra grew up in a largely Latino community. She later went on to Cornell University, where she struggled to fit in.

“It was another beginning, another important milestone of me realizing I am a Latina in a sea of white people. ... I felt like I was about to drown in this place, because, right away, I didn’t see people who looked like me, spoke like me or had a similar background,” Guerra said.

She struggled with what she called “imposter syndrome,” or a feeling of not belonging at the Ivy League school until she graduated and decided to move to Seattle.

Guerra started to write poetry, which gave her a sense of empowerment and a way to express herself. She later formed a business called “Brown Badass Bonita.” The brand, and what Guerra refers to as a movement, allowed her to fully embrace her culture and celebrate who she is as a person.

“I went on tour and every city I went to, it felt like coming home to my (family), but I also got to listen to the story of our community, of our people, of our women,” said Guerra. “And that’s when I realized we are as a community so powerful, so resilient, and yet we are in need of healing, we are in need of growth and we are in need of starting a revolution, and that revolution starts within.”

Guerra started to focus on internalized oppression, or “when you look at yourself through the oppressor’s eyes.”

“If you look at yourself and experience self-hate and shame ... that’s internalized oppression and at times when we are operating out of internalized oppression, then you also have the risk of being an oppressor,” Guerra said. “I’m a believer that the antidote to internalized oppression is self-love, pride of who you are and developing your cultural identity.”

She encouraged others to develop their own identity and stand behind it unapologetically.

Instead of listening to negative stereotypes or racial remarks, Guerra encouraged others to involve people in deeper conversations. The sometimes uncomfortable discussions help break down barriers and allow people to find a common understanding, Guerra said.

“For many years, I was afraid of my voice. I was afraid of my truth and I was afraid of what people were going to say. ... But deep down, I know my voice is important and it’s important to be shared,” Guerra said.

Justyna Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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