Latina Spotlight: Cadet Jessica Soto

Photo Credit: http://www.elpasotimes.com

Photo Credit: http://www.elpasotimes.com

She is a fighter, a believer, a college athlete, an Army Cadet, and she is a Latina.  She is one of the few to take on a journey that most, if not all, would consider to be rare and irrational.

Cadet Jessica Soto was born on April 29, 1995 in El Paso, Texas. She grew up in the small town of San Elizario, Texas where she developed into the multi-talented young lady that she is now.  Growing up she dodged all the negativity that was thrown at her, which only caused her to become more determined and focused than those around her.

She is one of the few women to have been accepted into one of the nation’s most prestigious military academies known as West Point, which is located in West Point, New York-approximately 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River.

West Point Military Academy (USMA) only takes in the nation’s most outstanding students.  Not only do the students have to have exceptional grades to be admitted, but they also select students who are physically fit and have proof of leadership skills.  Students that are accepted into the academy receive fully paid scholarships and a monthly income.  Alex Hinojosa, an El Paso Times journalist,  reported that West Point received about 15,000 applications in 2013, and only 194 of the 1,200 cadets that were accepted were women.

Jess, as her closest friends call her, was one of the two women from El Paso to get admitted. Latinitas sat down with Cadet Soto to learn more about her inspirational story.

Q: What can you tell me about yourself-family, growing up, and achievements?

A: “I was always around boys because I was the youngest of three and I was the only girl.  My parents are very traditional, typical Mexican parents; they have an old school mentality and they always thought I should clean up after my brothers, and, of course, I just never had any of it…I grew up around boys, always playing sports and I like to think that it was sports that taught me a lot of what I learned about myself.  It taught me how to be a leader and how to work hard for what I want, to ultimately be the best in anything.  Not saying that I was the best, but that was always what I aimed for.  I focused a lot of my time on becoming faster, stronger than anyone because I wanted to get out of here and play elsewhere.  I thought sports were my only way out, which is why I tried my best in school, to sell myself to colleges and universities.  I’d like to say that my biggest accomplishment has been an impact on younger girls that I played with, having someone look up to you and try to emulate you is…priceless.”

Q: At what point in your life did you decide that West Point was for you?

A: ”There came a point in my high school career when I realized that I didn’t want to play in college.  I loved sports, but it became more of a job to me because of the people around me who EXPECTED me to play D1 .  I read a book called “Battle Dress” by Amy Efaw and it was based on a girl’s experience of being a cadet in basic training at West Point.  Two weeks later, one of my teachers had a presentation about West Point and, as a second semester Junior, it became important to me to begin the application process.  At first I only applied because [after] hearing how hard it was to get in I became curious to know if I was good enough to go there.  As I became more engulfed, I realized West Point was the perfect place for me.  Soon enough, no other school compared to West Point so I didn’t apply anywhere else.”

Q: What was your reaction when you read the acceptance letter?

A: ”It took me a long time to receive my appointment because of my asthma. I was medically disqualified for months.  It took so many doctor visits and pulmonary exams to finally get a waiver.  The state senator denied me a nomination and you need one to even be considered as a candidate, but Reyes gave it to me before he left office.  When I finally got it, I was the happiest in the world!  I felt like all the weight was off my shoulders and all that stress had finally paid off.  I still remember the exact date, April 16, 2013.”

Q: What was going through your head when you had to say goodbye to your loved ones?

A: “I was so scared.  I began questioning if I had what it takes to make it through there.  My volleyball coach told me the day I left, ‘Don’t you dare come back here without a diploma in your hand.  You owe it to these girls that look up to you and this community that has given you everything.’  I just didn’t want to let anyone down, but I was excited and focused.  I felt ready to take on anything that would get thrown at me, the same way I took on any other challenge I had ever faced before… with a strong mind, leaving it all in God’s hands.”

Q: What challenges have you faced since your arrival at West Point, and are there any other Latinas that attend as well?

A: “I got made fun of for lacking military knowledge, and my accent was also made fun of.  People were very ignorant about my Latin culture.  I struggled academically; being a woman in an institution [whose population is] 14% women is hard.  We are objectified even though they advocate equality.  The profession itself is tough for women.  I had two major surgeries in one semester because of rugby.  There are few Latinas there, but they aren’t as culturally sound as I am.  They didn’t grow up in a border town, some don’t even speak a hint of Spanish, and if they do it’s very broken.”

Q: What advice do you give to young Latinas?

A: “My advice would be to have no limits, you have a dream, you go out, and you make it a reality.  There will always be people who will tell you that it is out of your reach, but no one can set limits as to what you can accomplish but yourself.  Step outside of your comfort zone, that’s where the magic happens.  It takes courage to stand up for yourself, to go out and do it.  Sometimes even those closest to you will think it’s impossible, but if you have the right intentions and the Lord sees it fit and if you work hard and never settle, then there is no saying what you cannot accomplish.  Once you accomplish that then you make a new goal, the key is to never be content with yourself or be complacent.  Never let your gender or race be a setback, embrace it and use it as a motivator.”

Cadet Soto is the perfect example of the American Dream. She broke both gender and cultural barriers in one of the most tedious professions, and was admitted to a highly prestigious school rare to women.  Jessica Soto is proof that if you’re passionate and determined enough, your dreams will become a reality.  She is an inspiration to not only Latinas but women in general looking to protect the country they call home.

Leading Latina: Melody Gonzales

Photo Credit: http://www.linkedin.com/in/melodygonzales

Photo Credit: Melody Gonzales

Melody Gonzales is the Presidential Appointments Program Director for the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 36 of the pre-eminent Latino civil rights, non-profit and advocacy organizations in the nation. Originally from San Diego, CA, Melody attended the University of California San Diego.

When she was growing up, she knew that she always wanted to work in a field where she could help make a difference for her community and one of her biggest obstacles in college was figuring out how to accomplish that goal.

“One day…I saw a flyer on a bulletin board on campus about the Asian American Journalism Association’s summer program for journalism students. I applied for their program and spent an amazing week in Chicago being mentored and trained by professional journalists. I went on to participate in similar trainings with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and doors opened for me to gain wonderful internships in the news industry,” said Melody.

It was programs such as these, the exposure to the field of communications, and to people working hard to lift up social issues which led her to a key turning point that helped place her on her public service career path.

After graduating from the University of California San Diego, Melody spent two years working in San Diego with the local NBC news affiliate as a news writer and with the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce, helping manage a leadership program for local community leaders. She also worked for the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau as General Manager, promoting tourism for San Diego. While she loved the work she was involved with, Melody became intrigued with the idea of going to graduate school when she was in D.C. and came across a brochure that described Georgetown University’s Master of Public Policy program as “a program for do-gooders.”

Melody became more and more excited as she read about the faculty members and students who were working in the nation’s capital as agents of change in all sorts of fields. She took a risk and put all of her eggs in one basket, applied for Georgetown’s graduate program in policy and was thrilled to have been accepted. At Georgetown she focused her studies on international policy development, had exposure to world leaders, and was able to study abroad at Oxford University.

During her Master’s program, she was able to conduct a quantitative research thesis on immigration and crime to help debunk the myth that immigrants are criminals. It was during her work on this thesis, at a point when immigration reform was being debated in the U.S. Senate and communities were mobilizing with rallies across the nation, that Melody decided she needed to be more directly involved in politics. She went on to work for Congressman Xavier Becerra in the U.S. House of Representatives for six years and for several political campaigns including for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Fast forward to present times, Melody currently works for The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). NHLA mobilizes to advance key policy priorities that impact the Latino community, such as immigration reform, economic empowerment, and more. She is the director of NHLA’s Latino Appointment Program, which launched in January of 2013. The program is designed to help improve Latino representation in government to ensure our voices and perspectives are integrated in key policy-making positions.

For more information on NHLA, visit http://nationalhispanicleadership.org.

Latina Athlete Spotlight: Brenda Martinez

Photo Credit: Runnersworld.com

Photo Credit: Runnersworld.com

Brenda Martinez is from Rancho Cucamongo, California, 25 years old and is a Mexican-American. She was the only Latina on the national track and field team for the USA since 2012.

How It Began

Her passion for running began when she was five years old. Her parents placed her in a track club at this age. They wanted her to be able to focus on her passion and school and keep her mind away from the peer pressure and bad influences around her. Her parents were very supportive of her especially since her mother was also involved in sports when she was younger. She later attended college at UC-Riverside, being the first in there family to attend college, where she majored in sociology and law. In 2009 during her college years, Martinez won NCAA Outdoor Championship in the 1500 meter and was also a three-time NCAA All-American. She was also named UC Riverside Female Athlete of the Year in 2008 and named Big West Women’s Track Athlete of the Week in 2009. What an inspiring Latina!

Her Dreams Continue

In 2013 at the Moscow IAAF Track and Field World Championships, Brenda Martinez became the first American woman to win a medal in the 800 meter event. Not only did she become the first at that, she also ran her personal best at 1:57:80. According to another interview Daily Relay had with her, Brenda Martinez states that before the race began, the crowds were so loud and cheering on for their runners that represented their homeland. This must have been intimidating for her and overwhelming especially from the nerves that were building up since the race would begin shortly. Martinez said that she cannot even remember most of the race except for the last 100 meters because she remembered that her fellow runners were all running together in a group and she had told herself to give it all she had for the coach. Even then, once they had all passed the finish line, she was not even sure what place she got, let alone that she had placed third! When they had finally informed her about her victory, she was so ecstatic and ready to run her victory lap while holding the American flag. How exciting that must have been for this chica!

Her hopes for the future are to inspire little girls. She led a training camp in Big Bear, California during one weekend for three days to help five girls from different high schools. She continued to mentor one of the girls in that camp. She loves talking about positive thinking with the girls and hopes that there will be more participants in the future. What an inspiration for, not only girls, but Latinitas!

Inspirational Famous Latinas

Celebrities play a major role in society, whether people realize it or not. They are on our TV and phone screens, on the covers of newspapers and magazines, and talked about constantly on social media. Though sometimes the media can spotlight the negativity in Hollywood, the positive strides that certain Latinas make in our society can make an impact on young chicas everywhere.

The main female character of someone’s favorite novela or a cantante whose lyrics hit close to home can be an inspiration to girls in their own unique ways.

017_GAL_JENNI_1124_DripSarahi Cardenas, 17-year-old senior at Westside High School, says singer Jenni Rivera was and will continue to be a positive influence in her life. Rivera was famous for her upbeat nortena music, acting, and her positive spirit. From having her own reality show to writing an autobiography, Rivera embodied a powerful woman capable of anything. Though Rivera passed away in December of 2012, her passion and lyrics still inspire young women like Cardenas.

“She grew up poor and really worked hard to support her family,” Cardenas said. “She’s an inspiration because no matter what happened to her she still had the courage to keep on going and have her career.”

Cardenas said what really impacted her about Rivera’s life is that she never gave up. Despite the age gap between Cardenas and Rivera, the fact that Cardenas could relate to her favorite singer made Jenni Rivera that much more real to her.

e56286fe764f80e9b8aa0240427d81041249340414_fullSelena Quintanilla, another Latina icon who has passed on, is 18-year-old senior Teresa Vazquez’s celebrity inspiration. The famous singer from Texas was in the Hollywood spotlight for her fun, catchy songs (Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, anyone?) and down-to-earth personality before her death in March of 1995. An icon for young Latinas, Selena represented the essence of Latin flavor and proved that a Latina could be just as successful as any other girl.

“Even though she is no longer alive, she left behind good music that inspires me to be a better and more positive person,” Vazquez said. “Her lyrics really spoke to me.”

Along with her music, Vazquez says Selena’s style was cute and unique and she likes to dress herself with Selena’s fashion in mind.

Jenni Rivera and Selena Quintanilla were two highly successful Latinas who have clearly created a legacy in the way that they impact their fans. Despite the fact that they are no longer alive, they are still powerful because of the impact they make on their fans. The influence of famous Latinas on youth is evident in the way chicas choose to dress, the music bumping in their iPods and the way they carry themselves.

Instead of focusing on the negativity that certain celebrities expose to their fans, Latinas should stick together and bring to light the positive talents of Latina starlets and use them as an inspiration for themselves! What famous Latina inspires you and why? Think about it!

Ellen Ochoa is Out of This World

Ellen_OchoaEllen Ochoa is a Latina who has impressed the world with her intelligence and ambition. A California native, she studied physics at San Diego State University and graduated in 1980 with a bachelor of science degree. A short year later, she graduated from Stanford University with a masters of science degree in electrical engineering. If that wasn’t impressive enough, in 1985 she earned her doctorate degree in electrical engineering. Personally, I think anyone who studies physics and electrical engineering in general deserves all the accolades possible, but earning a doctorate in this field from one of the most prestigious universities in the world is AMAZING. Plus, women weren’t expected to be outstanding in the STEM fields.

Ellen Ochoa is so important to the Hispanic community because she literally took Latino pride and carried it to a place outside of this world. Ellen Ochoa’s ambition and hard work earned her a “first” title. In 1993, as a part of the mission aboard the Discovery, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to travel to space. Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t it just fill you with pride and a warm feeling in your heart?!

Today, Ochoa is the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. When she took over the position on January 1, 2013, she became the first Hispanic woman and second women ever to be director at the Johnson Space Center.

Ellen Ochoa is definitely a pride to all Latinas.

Our Warrior, Sor Juana

Thanks to all the feminist movements of the past, today women around privileged countries have an opportunity to pursue their educational goals. One of the first feminists in history, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, fought to have her voice heard. Sor Juana Ines was born in a time when women were voiceless. She was born in San Miguel Nepantla in New Spain, now known as México. She was a nun, a poet and a writer. Her strongest weapons: her knowledge, pen and paper.  They are elements that do not receive as much credit today.

Sorjuana

As a female of the 17th century, she had little access to education. She began to read and write at the age of three in her grandfather’s library. If she married her thirst for education would be threatened; in 1969, she took her vows at the Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite. Little did she know that her education and writing would be silenced.

In a conversation with the Bishop of Puebla, she critiqued a sermon delivered by Portuguese Jesuit Antonio de Vieira. The bishop asked her to put her opinion in writing. In 1691, he published it without her knowledge or consent. Along with this text, the bishop included a letter condemning her intellectualism as a woman. In retaliation, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz wrote “Respuesta a Sor Filotea.”  In this letter, she condemns the Catholic Church for not supporting women’s rights to have an education and explains that education can be used to serve God. This resulted in censorship; she was not allowed to publish her writing and was forced to give her books away.

LaGuardia Community College Professor, Ana Maria Hernández states, “Juana was a woman alone against the might of the church and the might of the ground. She certainly rose to the circumstances, certainly rose to trace a trail for women who came afterwards.”

Sor Juana Ines’ trail was followed in United States by women’s rights activists in the mid- 19th century. Her voice should serve as an inspiration to many. She fought battle for women yet she was the only soldier.

It is sad to say that the battle for women’s equality continues today. According to National Committee on Pay Equity, women only make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Women’s pay checks for the same job are about a quarter less than men’s. How is this fair?

Examiner, Worcester Catholic Women’s Issues writer, Patricia Clark mentions, ”her battle for equality for women in every aspect of life, but especially in education, should serve to inspire young and old women everywhere who occasionally forget, due to the clamor of the superficial values of the culture, that it’s not what adorns the head from without that makes the woman a beauty, but rather that which embellishes and stirs it within.”

If Sor Juana hadn’t fought against the stereotypes in a male dominated society, today women wouldn’t be able to fight for equal pay doing the same jobs as men. Women do much more than men today; they are employees, mothers and wives. The least they deserve is equal pay.

Women in the United States have a louder voice than many others around the globe. We have a right to vote, drive and work unlike countries where only males rule. If women’s voices unite to demand equality, change will come. Soon other nations will follow, such as Pakistan by having Malala Yousafzai as an activist. Great battles have leaders, but they also have soldiers. Women are strong beings, capable of so many wonders. They are equal to men; therefore they deserve the same rights.

Klassy the Chica Lyricist

Photo by JDF Films

Photo by JDF Films

A brand new MC from Los Angeles, CA is taking over the L.A. rap scene. An MC describes a word rapper in the hip hop scene, but the term is not limited to the word play of hip hop. Klassy is a 17 year old Filipino chica who began her career in the ninth grade. Her real name is Graciela Moreno, but she prefers to be addressed as Klassy.

“My goal is to open my people’s minds, to see life in a positive angle, to live life in tranquil and understand true happiness. I want to spark inspiration. To change a bad mood into a good mood is worth more than money,” she explains.

Klassy grew up around the Latino population of Los Angeles. She is a sophomore at VAPA, the Visual and Performing Arts school in L.A. Her Filipino background did not limit her ability to take hip hop in the direction she did.

“It started off as almost a bet. I was around my friends who didn’t think I could rap, but I did it. I recorded a song and uploaded it [to the internet] and the next day my manager and I saw that it had a lot of views,” Klassy shares.

Klassy takes on the approach as a positive lyricist. She uses this label to describe her role in the underground music industry. “When I listen to music I can say that listening to powerful messages is the kind of music I want to surround myself with. I surround myself with positive people and I hope other girls or other people see that in my lyrics,” she says.

Unlike many other girl lyricists, Klassy is among the youngest. “My manager tells me, ‘You know you’re getting a lot of attention, but I am myself. I am looking at all from the inside out,’ she adds.

Vanessa Olivar, 16, says, “Klassy as a rapper is so cool. Her videos on YouTube are not like other artists. She doesn’t need to drink to have a good time. She shows herself dancing and playing arcade games, things that I like to do.”

“I think it’s great that girls look up to me, but I don’t like labels. When people want to limit me as a ‘girl rapper’ I get freaked. I am an MC. A girl lyricist only limits my potential. It creates a boundary with men and women. I prefer the term lyricist. I create music for everyone and anyone,” Klassy shares.

Genises Polito, 15, says, “I listen to her. I think she is so cool. She really is all about having a fun time…as herself. I like her music.”

Klassy adds, “People have questioned my rap abilities, but as an artist [I] realized there will always be haters, but I do notice that there are more Latinas and Latinos supporting the movement that I am in.”

A femcee, or female rapper, is no different than the similar lifestyles that Latinas or Latinos have with other ethnicities and cultures. Klassy explains, “If people are truly going to look at me and try to break me down because I am not a Latino or Latina then they are creating limits to my potential.”

The wave of female rappers is changing the way people look at hip hop . Hip hop was once dominated by males. Becky G, a teen Latina sensation from Inglewood, CA, was recently nominated by Radio Disney Music Award for Best Crush Song.

Klassy says, “It feels great to be among them, though I still say that I do it because it is something I am good at. I am me. I am an MC. I rap, I create music. I believe in myself. I have more people believing in me than haters and that there is enough for me to continue to do what makes me happy which is to create music.”

You too can take steps in promoting and surrounding yourself with the arts. Attend and become a member of the theater arts groups and attending poetry beats are good ways to start. You can only become better at what you are good at.

“The key to success for [anyone] is having a focused mind. Just be true to yourself, stay humble, and remember that there’s always room for improvement. I want to continue making music and if people like what I say then that is a motivator to continue to share my experiences, ideas and feelings,” she says.

 

Spotlight on Bella Thorne

Have you seen this girl before? C’mon, of course you have! You probably just don’t know that you have.

Cuban-American Annabella Avery Thorne started modeling since she was a baby, appearing in ads and commercials. So if her face looks a little familiar, it’s okay, you’re not going crazy! Bella, who’s currently 16, is becoming the next Disney sensation thanks to the show Shake it Up.  So why not get to know more about this multi-talented, energetic, and inspiring tween beyond just her face?

Did you know that at only six-weeks-old, Bella shot her first pictorial for “Parents Magazine”? That’s impressive!

Bella+Thorne+bt1

Bella was born in Florida but has been moving from an early age to California and New York to pursue her acting career. A surprising fact about Bella is that her native language is Spanish, since her dad is Cuban. She also is of  Irish and Italian descent. Talk about multiculturalism!

Bella was diagnosed with dyslexia in the first grade.  In an April 2010 interview with American Cheerleader Magazine, Bella explained that she overcame her dyslexia by always reading everything she could find, including the labels of cereal boxes. Up-to-date, she has appeared in more than 40 commercials. She starred in three DLP ads and became famous for her catchy line, “It’s amazing, it’s the mirrors!”

She proudly claims her mother has been her role model while pursuing her acting career.  Besides acting, Bella enjoys hiking, swimming, snorkeling, dancing, and painting.  She also loves Twilight (and is Team Jacob). Furthermore, she loves 80s music!

In an interview for Bella’s Official Fansite, when asked if she preferred modeling or acting, she responded with “modeling is quicker and I love fashion, but acting is fun to be different people. I’m starting to like acting more, but I still love modeling.”

Bella enjoys volunteering with The Nomad Organization, a group which offers education, food, and medical supplies to deprived children in Africa. She currently sponsors a child named Lydia Kanini Kiio in Kibwezi, Kenya. She hopes to better her community by encouraging more teens to volunteers and make a difference in the world. She says, “I would not be opposed to a mandatory time in community service for all teens!”

Without a doubt, Disney’s Shake it Up star has become extremely successful these past two years.  Still, wherever there’s fame and success, the dark downhill spiral is not too far behind. But no worries, it looks like Bella knows what she is doing! This is what she had to say on the subject of responsibility:

“I don’t think it is any actor’s responsibility to be a role model. I think it is your family that sets the standards, and kids can’t look to Hollywood to do that for them. We are all human and make mistakes and it is a ton of pressure to grow up in front of the camera and have the whole world comment on your errors.”

So what lies ahead for Bella’s future? On March 30, 2013, it was confirmed by Hollywood Records via Twitter that Bella was officially signed to the record label.  She also landed a role in the comedy The Familymoon, along with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

Well done, Bella! Keep up the good work!

 

Latinas Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

While Blockbuster films and news media portray human trafficking as a problem that takes place across our oceans, many Latinas are working to shatter that myth and inform Americans that this criminal act exists near their schools and on their playgrounds.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 300 thousand children – of various ages, genders, classes, races and ethnicities – are trafficked for sex in the United States every year. This figure doesn’t reflect those trafficked for labor or the number of adults also being trafficked within the U.S.

Recognizing this exploitation, Latinas – young and old – are taking a stand against this modern form of slavery.  They are joining forces with other people and organizations to spread awareness, instill programs and laws that prevent trafficking and consul victims of sex slavery.

In Washington D.C., Dr. Carolina De Los Rios is serving as the Director of Client Services for the Polaris Project, a non-profit anti-trafficking organization.

She supervises case managers, social workers and fellows who work directly with victims of human trafficking. Her team provides survivors with counseling, emergency housing and more specialized assistance all intended to help and to rebuild their lives.

“Seeing survivors after you have helped them in an emergency situation is so rewarding,” De Los Rios said. “You’ve seen one of the worst moments of their lives, and then you see them after you and the team worked so hard – smiling, getting their GED, going to college. You see them thriving with their life, and then I know it makes sense what I’m doing.”

Del Los Rios, a Colombian, believes that being a Latina has given her a unique lens in her fight against trafficking.

“Being Latina makes me more aware about the challenges that you experience as a Latina, and it makes me more sensitive to the different challenges that women and girls experience,” Del Los Rios said.

She also said that although all young people are vulnerable to being recruited, Latinas who just immigrated to the U.S., who don’t speak the language and who don’t know how the system works here, may be in an even more vulnerable position.

Public interest attorney Norma Ramos understands that vulnerability firsthand.

The now executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) was once a child in New York’s foster care system.

“I always felt a strong sensitivity about human beings who are being commercially and sexually exploited,” said Ramos. “I felt that that could have so easily been me – I still feel that way.”

At CATW, the world’s first organization to fight human trafficking internationally, Ramos raises awareness about human trafficking and promotes the Nordic model – laws that penalize the demand for commercial sex and decriminalize victims of the commercial sex industry – as an approach to combat human trafficking.

“When a country passes the Nordic model, I’m very happy,” said Ramos. “Norway passed the Nordic model, then Iceland followed. These were ‘break out the champagne’ moments for me.”

Ramos, who is Puerto Rican, also hopes to encourage young people and Latinas to take a stand against injustice.

“The world has too little political courage; it’s the No. 1 disappointment for me when I see people not risk something in order to change and end a social injustice.”

A few hundred miles east of Ramos is a young Latina in Connecticut whose political courage would make Ramos very proud.

Ana Alarcon is a high school senior and anti-human trafficking advocate.

The 17-year-old Colombian recently traveled to Washington D.C. for the National Youth Summit on Abolition, where she was a panelist alongside human trafficking experts like Wesleyan University professor Lois A. Brown, founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation Kenneth Morris Jr., and U.S. Ambassador in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Luis CdeBaca.

As a young Latina, Alarcon’s voice and perspective was very unique at the event.

“It feels very empowering as a young person and as a female and as a Latina. There are generally a lot of men in this field,” Alarcon said. “I feel like I could give a voice to different groups, I feel honored, and I feel like I could give other people a sense of ‘you can do this, too.’”

The young Latina hopes to continue her advocacy beyond high school. She was recently accepted into Fordham University, where she will be studying international relations.

“Human trafficking is just a link to so many world issues – poverty, drugs, abuse – it’s all interconnected. If I can stop one thing, it will be a chain reaction to cause peace somewhere else,” Alarcon said.

Like Ramos, Alarcon also wants girls her age to be courageous.

“If you want to do anything, you could absolutely do it. Just because you’re a girl, a minority or you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t do something important or be someone important,” Alarcon said.

If interested in connecting with anti-human trafficking services near you or to obtain free training materials to help you with your advocacy, visit: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/the-nhtrc/overview.

 

Latina Poets You Should Know

When we think of great poets we may automatically think of Shakespeare or maybe even Emily Dickinson, but did you know that for many years Latinas have also excelled in poetry writing? Plenty of Latina poets have received awards and universal recognition for their poetry collections. Poetry is also what helped secure the first Nobel Peace Prize ever awarded to a Latina. Latina poetry explores a variety of styles and themes and is often inspired by the poets’ beautiful and sometimes painful cultural experiences. Poetry has been responsible for giving many Latinas the strong voice they need to share their unique stories with the world. Here are some amazing Latina poets you should check out.

Sandra Cisneros 

Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican American author who was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Sandra may be best known for her novel The House on Mango Street, but she is also a talented poet. Sandra’s poetry reflects her own personal experiences with identity, poverty, cultural stereotypes, and feminism. Some of Sandra’s poetry collections include Bad BoysMy Wicked Wicked Ways and Loose Woman. After 45 years as an author, Sandra continues to write and it is her love for writing that encouraged her to start several foundations which aim to advance the success of writers in Texas.

 

 

 

Julia de Burgos

 Julia de Burgos is considered to be one of the first Latina poets and one of the greatest Puerto Rican poets of all time. While Julia’s poetry reflects her love for her country and nature, her poems also reflect her advocacy for Puerto Rican independence. Julia’s poems highlight some of the social struggles going on in Puerto Rico at the time of her writing. Some of her more famous works are El Rio Grande de Loiza,  Poema para Mi Muerte (My Death Poem), and Yo Misma Fui Mi Ruta (I Was My Own Path). Julia received many awards and recognitions for her poetry during her lifetime and after her death she had several monuments built in her name both in Puerto Rico and the U.S.

 

Pat Mora

Pat Mora is the author of several poetry collections for adults and young adults including Dizzy In Your Eyes: Poems about Love and My Own True Name. Common themes in Mora’s poetry are Mexican American culture, bilingualism and the southwest where she grew up. Mora has also received several awards for her poetry collections for adults which include BordersChantsand Communion. Mora currently works as a literacy advocate for her self-founded initiative “El día de los niños/El día de los libros,” which is an effort to connect children with the joy of reading.

 

 

 

  Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is a Dominican American poet and novelist. Julia was born in New York City but spent most of her childhood in the Dominican Republic. Her experience as an immigrant  influenced much of her writing. Her poetry collections include The Woman I Kept To MyselfHomecoming and The Other Side/El Otro Lado. Julia’s poetry explores themes of identity, assimilation and cultural expectations of women. Alvarez has won several awards for her poetry and some of her poetry manuscripts are on display in the New York Public Library.

 

 

 

 

Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean poet and the only Latin American woman to ever win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Her most famous poem, Sonetos de la muerte,  was inspired by the suicide of her lover, and themes of love, suffering and pain were a constant in her following poems. Gabriela was also an educator and spent most of her life traveling and working as an education reformer. Though she is not as well-known in the 20th century, her poems laid the groundwork for many of today’s Latina feminist poets.

 

 

 

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