The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

ALANA’s Phenomenal Women’s Dinner: Honoring Herstory & the Women of Tomorrow

Hephzibah Ohihoin

On Saturday, April 6, ALANA (Asian Latinx African Native American+ Womxn) had its annual Phenomenal Women’s Dinner in the Bluffs Ballroom from 5:30-8 p.m. The event hosted keynote speaker, Leanne Vigue and included a showcase of local women-owned businesses. 

The event started with the awarding of the phenomenal women of this year’s dinner. Esbeidy Guevara, co-president of ALANA said, “Each year ALANA chooses to honor four phenomenal women who are making a difference in their community. These women are true to themselves and are cherished by the people around them. Tonight we will celebrate their accomplishments.” 

Dr Berna Gercek-Swing was the first awardee to be called up on stage. Gercek-Swing is a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and specializes in social and cross-cultural psychology.  

She said, “ I knew that I should overcome my embarrassment, hold my head high, and come here and accept the compliment not only in my name but in the name of all of these wonderful students who inspire me always.”

UWL history professor, Dr Gita V. Pia was the next awardee. While on stage, Pia talked about how her parent’s move to America shaped her relationship with her identity. “I went from wanting to pull away from the very things that made my parents different to teaching, researching, speaking and writing about their native land to celebrate that difference,” said Pia. “I thank ALANA for this very special award.”

The third awardee to be announced was Mia Simone Davis. Davis is currently a senior in a La Crosse high school and runs two small businesses; Mias Kitchen and Healing Roots.

“I’m truly honored to be receiving this award today. I truly love this community, this is a community that has supported me ever since the age of fifteen.” Davis continued, “I appreciate all the amazing phenomenal women along the way who have inspired me and who have mentored me to become this woman that I am today. I’m going to use this award to continue to inspire young girls in our community.”

The last awardee, Choya Woods, is the owner of Melanin Beauty Bar and a previous winner of the ALANA Phenomenal Women awards. Woods was described as a true advocate for understanding the history of hair and creating a beautiful community for others in the La Crosse area. 

“Shine brighter, Don’t get so caught up into [sic] society’s norms and rules and ethics that you forget your own,” said Woods. “Thank you so much ALANA for this award I truly appreciate each and every one of you.”

Leanne Vigue, keynote speaker for the event started by greeting the audience and her relatives in her native language, Menominee. 

She spoke on the important roles a majority of her family members played in her search for identity as an American Indian. 

Vigue said, “Identity issues run deep in Indian country, we can’t even figure out what to call ourselves, we can’t agree on a name. Are we Indians? Native Americans? Natives? Indigenous? There are all kinds of opinions amongst native folks about what we should be called and all kinds of identity crises among native people.” 

Through the use of storytelling, interactive games, group discussions and a variety of media, Vigue was able to narrate to the audience ‘Herstory’. She touched on critical moments of her childhood and young adult life while sharing pieces of history and offering lessons she learned along the way. 

Vigue also talked about the phenomenon that is the ‘crab mentality’; a situation where members of a group cut each other down and criticize each other instead of lifting each other up. In her words, “A fairly common phenomenon in native families who’ve experienced significant trauma for generations.” 

“The good thing about being a part of the problem is that it also means we can be a part of the solution,” said Vigue. “We can choose to lift up instead of pulling each other down and it starts with understanding.” 

In a short interview with The Racquet Press, Vigue had said this about her keynote– “I’m hoping that what folks took from it was that it’s okay to be who you are and not be ashamed of it and that you have the ability to change and become who you want to be. You don’t have to stay stagnant in life, you can grow and change and be happy with those changes and work towards being who you want to be.”

The dinner concluded with the playing of the infamous poem, Phenomenal Women by Maya Angelou and the recognition of both new and graduating ALANA members as well as the 2023/2024 (ALANA) executive team. 

Audience member Jordan Plitzner said, “I had a good time, it was fun. It was amazing to hear the guest speaker and see the other businesses in the La Crosse community and it was just a great turnout overall.”

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About the Contributor
Hephzibah Ohihoin
Hephzibah Ohihoin, General Assignment Reporter
Year at UWL:  First PGPs: She/Her Hometown: Sabongida-Ora, Edo State, Nigeria. Major: English Minor: Legal Studies and Creative Writing Other Campus Involvement: Xi Alpha Ministry, Cru, ALANA, Pre-Law Organization and BSU Future Plans after Graduation: Law School Favorite activity in La Crosse: Playing badminton and pickleball
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