This is the fourth installment of Latinas empowering other Latinas to succeed in honor of Women’s History Month.
Ten years ago at the University of Texas, students Laura Donnelly Gonzalez and Alicia Rascon were asked to create media that empowered Latinos.
“Both of us noticed the lack of magazines that were inclusive of young Latinas and presented positive images of young Latinas, so we decided to develop Latinitas Magazine in that class,” Gonzalez says.
Rascon felt there were serious issues in her community that needed to be addressed and that girls were really lacking resources. “I felt that media was a perfect outlet to empower girls, help break some of the stereotypes, and help represent our community,” she says.
So Gonzalez and Rascon started clubs, camps, and workshops where girls could learn how to be media makers. Their current signature program is called “Club Latinitas,” an after-school program based in media, technology, and culture. One project that embodies their program, Gonzalez says, is a research assignment on el Día de los Muertos in which the girls created their own altars through Power Point. Through the process, the participants learned how to use computer software while learning something new about Mexican culture.
Latinitas also gives girls an opportunity to express themselves through blogging. According to Gonzalez, there are 1,000 bloggers who are currently connected to My Latinitas and some of them are as young as 11 years old. She says that recently a young girl wrote about how dissatisfied she was by the way Mexican-American history was being presented in her class.“That was super exciting for us to see a young girl blog about this,” Gonzales says, “to have that kind of emotional awareness at eleven.”
In addition to all the girls they reach online, Latinitas has now served about 20,000 girls at their club since their start and are happy to see the girls like Vega succeed and become leaders in their program.
Rascon feels that the media and technology portion is the vehicle to deliver their message. “The most powerful part of the magazine is that the girls have a Latina like themselves mentoring them, paying attention to them, and listening to them,” she says.
Ana Vega, 20, was in real need of guidance when she joined Latinitas seven years ago. She says she grew up in a bad neighborhood and there was a point in middle school in which she was hanging out with the wrong people. When she was 13, Vega became interested in the program because her friend was attending. She says she was also attracted to the technology component because she didn’t have a computer at home. “It completely switched my whole path around,” she says. “I left my bad friends. I found a group where I can fit in.”
Vega says the program also gave her more self confidence. “A lot of activities we did were about being proud about being Hispanic and being proud of being a girl,” she says. Now Vega is a program leader and attends the University of Texas where she is studying bilingual education. She says she plans to teach elementary school.
For those who want to get involved but reside outside of the El Paso or Austin area, Rascon suggests joining the youth editorial advisory board– a virtual mentoring opportunity for young women across the country. She says that they are also looking for volunteers to assist as a guest writers or as virtual editors. Additionally, they provide opportunities for bloggers, photographers, and translators.
“A lot of the girls feel like society has really low expectations of them, that in general they think they’re going to become the stereotype of a teen mom that drops out of school,” Rascon says. “We’re really interested in connecting them with positive Latinas that have broken that stereotype to show that there are other options.”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for The Huffington Post and other publications. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com