Diversity talk pushes cultural pride, courage

On April 7, Maria Guajardo, director of the mayor's office for Education and Children in Denver, delivered this year's President's Diversity Lecture, "Navigating Across Cultures."

Guajardo is a licensed child psychologist and served as executive director of Latin American Research and Service Agency and Assets for Colorado Youth. Her publications include "The Spirit of Culture" and "The Power of Parents."

Guajardo's speech began on a serious note as she said that, statistically, she should have been a high school dropout, due to her background as the daughter of Mexican immigrants that came to America 50 years ago.

Her parents were illiterate and had very little education, but hoped to seek a better life for their children. Graduating with honors from Harvard University and earning her master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Denver, Guajardo didn't let growing up in poverty as the fifth of six children hold her back.

"Navigating cultures is not for the faint of heart," she said in warning to the audience, noting that it takes courage, leadership and commitment to gain deeper understanding of other peoples.

"You must have courage to travel into the unknown," she said. "You have to be able to anchor cultural identity to understand who you are."

Guajardo encouraged taking pride in one's culture. "It is my prerogative to name myself," she said of her Latina heritage. "Take courage to name yourself, because others will name you if you don't. To navigate cultures you have to know yourself."

Audience members had an overall positive reaction to the lecture. "I thought it was interesting how she discussed the importance of recognizing that everyone's cultures are different," said freshman Suzanna Friedman.

"I really enjoyed her stories because they added a lot of personality to her presentation," said freshman Maggie Boquard. "I also thought that her pride in her culture was very evident."