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Ana Tijoux: Inspiring Through the Power of her Lyrics

On October 3rd, 2014, Ana Tijoux performed at the Sculpture Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, presenting several new songs from her latest album, “Vengo.” The respected, Chilean MC took the stage with a full band and DJ who brought to life the hip-hop, jazz, and funk elements of her new album.

In the middle of her singing/rapping, Tijoux expressed how happy she was to be the only Latin American female performing that day, but felt that “there should be more” because Latin America is a “beautiful invasion of culture.” She was among only a handful of Latin American acts performing at the festival this year. The diverse crowd who arrived at the stage an hour before Tijoux’s performance time cheered in agreement with her statement.

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Tijoux continued to energize the crowd with some of her famous hits about government, power, and community like “1977,” “Shock,” “Vengo” and “Creo en Ti.” She skillfully sang and rapped in Spanish and knew that some people did not understand what she was saying, “but it’s about music no? It’s about the flow; we all feel it.” The audience laughed and showed signs that they were falling more in love with Tijoux, as they cheered loudly and danced along to her music.

My first ACL festival experience exceeded my expectations. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to see performances as great as Ana Tijoux’s and several others. Mostly, I’m glad I was able to witness how music can bring a large group of people together. As Mark Foster from the band, Foster the People, put it, “I love that these things bring so many different people, from different communities, nationalities, religions, and cultures together. I guarantee that this is the only time in history that all these people around you will be here in the same place at the same time.” Very well said, Mark.

Code Chica Conference Recap 2014

 

classroom10 - CopyWhy Code Chica? 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by the time girls in middle school now go to college, there will be one million more computer science jobs than computer scientists to fill them. When we look at the number of females pursuing that career path, things look bleak, women of color pursuing technology – nearly nil . Less than one percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science in college and the American Association of University Women reports only 19 percent of computer and information-science majors are currently women, less than one percent of engineers right now are Hispanic women.

Latinitas Empowering Using Media and Techology!  Check out the video!

To combat the current under-representation of women in the tech industry, Latinitas, in a partnership with Google’s Made with Code campaign, developed the Code Chica Conference with the aim of getting girls excited about coding and sparking an interest in tech jobs. The first Code Chica conference was held on October 25, 2014 at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus. Sixty girls and teens at the conference were introduced to coding with the help of professionals and graduates from local coding academy MakerSquare who facilitated the coding seminars throughout the course of the day.

Kick off! The event kicked off with a key note address from Latina engineer Karen Siles who spoke about being one of the few female employees with her job title at IBM in Austin, TX. She shared, “There is jobs waiting to be filled by a qualified woman candidate. The issue is not that there is not jobs for women in technology, the issue is that women are not choosing to take the path of attaining degrees in computer science.” Tung Huynh, an admissions recruiter at ACC Eastview, also spoke about working in tech with just one female colleague.  His company eventually hired more women who became some of the best product managers, coders, developers, engineers, account managers, and sales directors. He explained, “That’s the whole funny thing about this- girls are shy about competing and then they come in and they do better than the guys do.”  Similar to Siles experience, there were more jobs than women applying. He said, “I think today is going to go a long way towards changing that.”

Coding Begins!

Girls were introduced to the concept of coding as a means to create actions with a visual demonstration of a robot. One of the Makersquare seminar facilitators pretended to be a robot and the girls had to direct the robot to the door.   Then, they visited a Disney website and were guided through the process of using code to change a website, font colors and sizes, and delete pictures. They also used an online web based coding platform and CSS to embed video games. Girls expressed excitement as they passed from one level to the next.

Women in Tech at Lunch

At lunch girls were visited by many local powerful women in technology today. These women shared their personal, academic and professional journeys in technology. The roundtable set up made the connections more personal and powerful. Women came from Rackspace, Google, Dell, BB&T Bank, local PBS station KLRU-TV, Accruent and start ups like Stretchrecipes.com and SheHacksATX.  . Miczeh Reeze (A code chica) expressed how she will remember how the speakers gave inspiring quotes to follow their dreams.”  Jackie Lopez also noted,” The one thing that I will remember from this event are the people that visited the tables.”

Miranda Dawn from TV’s “The Voice”

It wouldn’t be a Code Chica event without having just as much “chica” as coding and so Latinitas welcomed former volunteer and current alumni from last seasons’ “The Voice,” Miranda Dawn (Miranda Oropeza), a singer/songwriter and member of her own band Dawn and Hawkes. She performed but also invited girls on-stage.

Code Afternoon:

When the “Code Chicas” returned to their assigned computer labs, they continued coding and practiced manipulating code by changing the Latinitas website. Over 60% of the attendees surveyed said they had never been to an event like this. Many of them expressed how they wished they had Latinitas at their schools. Several of the girls were also active members of Latinitas clubs and camps and expressed excitement about Code Chica. When asked if they would tell their friends about Latinitas programs and events, surveys showed a resounding “yes!” Seventh grader Elizabeth Hernandez said, “I would absolutely tell my friends about Latinitas because it’s a place where girls can dream big and have fun.”  She also said,”I liked the fact that girls were able to connect with technology.”

Code Chica presented coding on girls’ terms through fun exercises that incorporated some of their favorite brands and videos.  Coding was demystified for many girls and thanks to dedicated instructors, lunchtime career presenters and Latinitas model of empowerment, more chicas in Austin are putting themselves into the shoes of developers, designers and definitely: coders.

In Defense of MAS

DSCN1653Universities are slowly beginning to offer more opportunities in cultural studies for its students. As a Latina, knowing that the university I currently attend – the University of Texas at Austin – offers students the ability to get a degree in Asian, Asian American, Islamic, Jewish, and Middle Eastern Studies (just to name a few), really made me want to learn about the Mexican American Studies degree. Sooner than later, I decided to double major in it. For me, my heritage played a lot into this decision, but it really does not matter if you identify as Mexican American or not. It also does not matter if you know a lot of this culture because there are so many more things the Mexican American Studies degree can do for you.

Is a Mexican American Studies degree worth it?

It is important to understand the criticism that the idea of Mexican American Studies has been facing for the past couple of years. With schools in Arizona, Texas, and California struggling to offer Mexican American Studies in their schools, it is only harder for colleges and universities to do the same– especially when the degree can definitely be put into good use.

With a Mexican American Studies degree, for example, you can become a Study Abroad Coordinator for a university or Marketing and Advertising Manager for a big international corporation.

The degree also allows you to tailor another interest you might be pursuing as well. For example, if you are a government major and decide to get another degree at the same time in Mexican American Studies, then you can possibly become an Affirmative Action Specialist. If you’re a communications major and get a dual degree, you can possibly become a writer for a Latin@ based organization, or a foreign policy news analyst.

For Estela Maldonado, coming back to school to get a Mexican American studies degree meant being able to help more people. After having a son, she said coming back to school to major in Mexican American Studies meant she would be able to tell her son “more about where he comes from.” A frequent volunteer in events that raise awareness over immigration and labor form, she said, “with my degree, I can be a more informed member of the community I choose to take part in.”

Where can I study this?

Texas is not the only state that offers a Mexican American studies degree. There are different programs such as the Latino Studies Program at Cornell University, the Center for Latino Policy Research at UC Berkeley, and the Hispanic Research Center where this or a similar degree can be studied.  Within these programs there are classes that are offered in areas such as Spanish literature, anthropology, and political science. Some course titles offered at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, include classes like “Introduction to Cultural Studies; “Mexico: From Aztlan to Zapata”; and “Chicanos and Film: Representation of la Raza.” At the University of Houston, you might take “MAS 3341: Mexican American Experience through Film” or “MAS 3342: Mexican Immigration to the United States.” If you go out of state, you can take classes like “MAS 485: Mexicana/Chicana Women’s History” or “MAS 369: Mexico Since Independence” at the University of Arizona.

Taking classes in these degree programs ask for an array of skills. It is not like your typical degree program where you might only be conducting experiments or attending meetings. Depending on the institution and track you choose (i.e. cultural studies, policy studies), the things you will be doing coincide.

For example, if you want to focus on studying the cultural side of Mexican American studies, you might be studying Mexican American literature, movies, and history.  Because the Mexican American Studies degree is more of a specialization in cultural studies (since you can also study Asian American History, African American History, etc.), schools usually have an option for you to focus more on the political or social history side of Mexican American Studies. Other universities, such as Our Lady of the Lake University, offer more general courses in Mexican American Studies focusing on more of an overview in the area.

Recently, South Texas College in McAllen, Texas became the first college to offer a Mexican American Studies degree that can be earned completely online. There are currently 28 colleges and universities across the United States that offer a Mexican American Studies as a degree. But in other schools such as the University of Arizona, new Ph.D. and doctoral programs are now being offered.

So whatever the case may be, there are many possibilities for you to make the Mexican American studies fit to your needs. Do not be afraid to do some research and reach out to admissions offices about their Mexican American studies degree. You will not regret your decision!

Film: Life on the Line

Photo Credit: http://finelinefilms.org

Photo Credit: http://finelinefilms.org

In the documentary, “Life on the Line: Coming of age between nations” by Jen Gilomen and Sally Rubin, the life of a young eleven year old girl, Kimberly Torrez, is portrayed in the story to show her family’s hardships in life facing difficulties in two different worlds. This documentary will be aired during Hispanic Heritage Month, in September on PBS.

Growing up is hard as it is, with all of the different changes happening, especially when you have to grow up in two different countries. In the life of Kimberly Torrez, the oldest of three children, she is faced with drastic changes in her life living in Mexico and going to school in Arizona. Each morning she wakes up early to walk across the border to go to school because she does not drive.

At such an early age of only 11 years old, she is faced with many responsibilities, has to wake up extra early, takes care of her little siblings from time to time to help out the parents, and, most importantly, is being brave through this passage of growing up.

As if it isn’t enough, she also has to deal with the ongoing violence occurring in Nogales; from hearing gunshots to police sirens nearby, at an early age in her life, she has many worries at such a young age.

In addition, she also has to cope with her parents going through a rough patch. Her father has Hepatitis C from getting several tattoos, which he later realizes were done with unsterilized needles. In need of a liver transplant, it became difficult for the father to find a reliable job in Nogales.

Because of the father’s sickness, the mother became the only one that could work to provide for their family.  She worked in Mexico because she was never a U.S citizen; she had crossed a long time ago illegally to have her children, but returning was not possible.

Times began to get more difficult, and the father then decides to cross the border and find a job in the U.S, which he did. He found a job in construction in Arizona, which was hours away from his family. He took the job and was separated from his family for months, in order to earn more money to be able to support his family through these difficult times.

After a while Kimberly’s mom got her Visa in the mail, which allowed her to finally cross the border to the U.S.. To add to the good news, Kimberly’s family finds out that a liver became available for their father’s transplant

Growing up is hard, and living in two worlds is difficult, but with Kimberly’s family supporting one another and always trying their best without giving up, they did it, together. For a tale of perseverance and the obstacles that come from immigrant families, this film is a must-see this September.

A Moment for Mindfulness

Stop. Breathe. Take a second to look around you, notice your surroundings, and pay attention to all five senses. Are you sitting in bed, on a bus, or walking to meet a friend? Take in everything.

Yoga

Are you shivering, sweating, or just perfect? Is that smell coming from the kitchen making your stomach grumble in anticipation, tickling your nose with wafts of ajo y cebolla?  And your hands, where are they? Perhaps they are running through your tight curls, molding moist clay, or leafing through last month’s Vogue.
While that may have seemed like an odd exercise, deep, unbiased awareness of your surroundings is essential to a meditative practice known as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of active awareness and openness to the present, without a conclusive judgment of the moment. Instead, in practicing mindfulness, one attempts to appreciate what is observed for the essence of what it is, rather than how subjectively “good” or “bad” it may be (Mayo Clinic).Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness Exercise

To explain, consider a dark, rainy, and windy day. For many, this description will seem dreary and depressing.  Now imagine walking into that rain — resist the urge to cringe. Feel the drops wet your skin, listen to the whistling wind and the rustling leaves, and smell the earthiness of rain. Stand still and just be. You have nowhere to go, no obligations to take you away from your commitment to enjoy yourself and nature in this moment. This practice of mindfulness transformed unpleasant weather into a profound moment of meditation and connection with yourself and nature.

“Mindfulness helps me connect to my body and the present. It helps reduce anxiety, creating a safe space in my mind. It makes my day brighter,” said Daniela Castillo, 22.

Now imagine doing the same activity on a bright, clear day, the sun warming your cheeks and the plush grass cushioning your tired feet. Or imagine sitting in your bed and letting every limb of your body sink into the worn quilt as you listen to the creaks of your sister’s footsteps and the rhythm of the kitchen. Mindfulness can be practiced any time and any place, as long as you are prepared to focus your mind to a state complete openness and non-judgment.

 To Your Health!

This ability to focus and disengage from your cluttered mind is not only useful, but physically and emotionally healthy. Dedicating a few moments every day for mindfulness not only lowers and prevents future stress, it minimizes the risk of depression and other mental health issues. Mindfulness also increases compassion and emotional warmth, and helps one enjoy a better night’s sleep. This prepares the meditator for a more healthy, kind and productive day (Psychological Science).

Amelia Henriquez, 21, said, “sometimes I need to just relax and feel the world around me. I want to see the colors around me as art, the smells as crazy perfumes, the sounds as songs. It puts me in a different mindset. I feel chill, at peace with it all.”

The best part about mindfulness is that it is absolutely free, and absolutely portable. No matter where you are, no matter how empty your wallet, you can take a few moments out of life’s dramas and anxieties to appreciate yourself and your environment while improving your health and outlook. It is as simple as turning off the judgmental voice in your head and soaking in this precious moment of life.

So the next time you are waiting to be picked up at school, look up and notice the way the clouds graze the sky. Listen to friends around you speaking in Spanish and notice how our language sounds like a song even when you don’t pay attention to the words. And when your mami picks you up, notice the warmth of her cheek as you kiss hello. This, amigas, is mindfulness.

Artsy Latinas Doing It Big

When your role model tells you that anything can happen, follow your dreams, work hard and they will come true, you begin to get the motivation to actually do something about your life. These women have found ways to follow their passions and make a business, living, and doing what they love. Three women, Dina Eden, Nancy Contreras, and Sandra Arlette, have made a business out of their craft, art and hard work. They are combining their abilities to create an awesome fashion trifecta. I had the pleasure of interviewing these ladies to find out who they are, what they do, and how they achieved it.

Dina Eden is the owner/ designer of Tree of Eden, an accessory boutique online and in Arlette, which is located in downtown El Paso. Dina has always had a thing for art and dabbled in a couple classes, but when she took ceramics, she knew it was a perfect fit. Dina states, “ I always wanted to do something with art, jewelry is a really good medium.” Dina was a supervisor for an accounting company but then had a car accident that caused her to have total amnesia.  She went back to basics and started using art, ceramic sculpture and jewelry making as therapy. Dina decided to sell some of her creations on ETSY this past November and was asked to sell some articles in the downtown boutique, Arlette. She began to show her jewelry at many private events around El Paso. She is currently in Hidalgo Mexico to expand her creative abilities. For example, pottery Dina States, “There are a bunch of clay deposits on the Ranch (in Mexico) to work on pottery.” Her greatest success is doing what she really loves with her small business. Dina states, “I would rather struggle with a small business then with something I don’t like.”  Her success ties into her struggle, while growing up in Juarez entrepreneurship wasn’t’ really advised. Dina’s advice was to try and self teach, “start early to get a feel for it; it’s all about confidence. There’s nothing to be scared of. It could turn into a really good business.” Dina also suggests to research small businesses and learn bookkeeping, or how to finance. There are many outlets to learn how to manage money, and it’s a very important part of the process.

Another contributor to Arlette boutique is Nancy’s online store, Ragazza Bazaar. Nancy grew up watching hermother make quinceañera dresses, homecoming mums and other formal attire, and later immersed herself in the fashion industry by becoming retail managers at various stores. She started surfing the web and realized she could gain endless possibilities by owning her own online store inspired by celebrity style. Her first business was started sola, then got some help from her sister who lives in San Diego. Nancy explained how she gained hands on experience in the fashion world by going to events and showing her work in fashion shows. Some obstacles Nancy overcame was through marketing, getting the word out, but networking worked for her. Nancy is very big on supporting her local community and wants to extend more opportunities for girls in El Paso. She is currently undergoing a social media promotion website that deals with supporting local businesses online, El Paso Style. Nancy advises, “continue to work hard to promote your talent and skill and create a portfolio. Never give up, even if you think you’re failing. It takes time, work and a lot of commitment.” She also advises to research resources of the craft, your audience and learn from other who are also successful.

Sandra Arlette is the owner of Arlette, a local boutique mainly housing jewelry, but also sells many other things by herself and other artists. A craftswoman from a very young age, Sandra had always wanted to delve into fashion design, but because her educational art options were somewhat slim she studied International business. Starting in 2005, Sandra kept her creativity on the side, she had an epiphany one afternoon when her accessory choices were not very promising. She began creating articles for herself and then began crafting more for others. Arlette’s businessbegan to pick up in 2009, she states, “It really was my passion, I could stay home for days doing nothing but designing!!” Finally, Sandra opened her own shop in 2012 with the help of her family and supporting boyfriend, after dedicating her post graduation to her home accessory business. Sandra hopes to keep doing what she loves forever and helping local artists, designers around El Paso be heard. Sandra’s advice to young Latinitasis to keep your head up, do your research, and don’t be discouraged by negative people. She says, “Keep doing what you love, do it right and better yourself, always share your talent and appreciate other’s too.” Sandra also advises to surround yourself with supportive and passionate companions, get an education, and if you’re set on your artistic career, start your investigation and research now!  Sandra has made a living out of her passion through heart and hard work, young girls/Latinas can also do the same with any talent.

All three women have recently begun their business journeys, and they’re going strong. These women have accomplished and learned so many things, and a common obstacle standing in their way is the overwhelming skepticism towards going local. Sandra Arlette says, “I think the greatest obstacle has been the lack of interest of the society in “handmade” products. I think we don’t appreciate it enough and we still think that handmade is cheap or has poor quality.” Arlette’s boutique has been going strong for a year now and hopefully El Paso can support their crafts and keep their dream alive.

Becoming a Media Superstar

María Elena Salinas, an inspiring role model for Latinas, has had an amazing career at the Spanish-language news station. María is a journalist from Los Angeles who has grown and developed throughout her career at Univision.

Being born and raised in California to two Mexican immigrants gives her the on-the-ground knowledge of several aspects of the Latina experience. Her hard work that has turned into successful reporting and shines light on the strength and resilience that every Latina embodies.

According to her page on Univision News’s Tumblr, Salinas “has interviewed every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter and has been face to face with dozens of Latin American heads of state, rebel leaders, and dictators.”

For entertainment, for relaxation, or for information, television channels are ready to connect with their audience. Latinos, in particular, are eager to immerse themselves into the discussion about current events.

Univision covers the news that Latinos in the United States want to know more about, and their ratings are constantly improving and breaking records.

As TV By the Numbers reports, “the Spanish-language network was the No. 1 broadcast network among Adults 18-49 on 38 nights in 2012.” Not only is Univision an option for those who would like to watch the news in Spanish, it is also grabbing the attention of coveted young viewers to watch and work behind the scenes.

Hard-hitting and professional reporting by the Univision team allows Latinos and other viewers to know that our community has a pulse–and a powerful one at that. If you are interested in pursuing a career in journalism or following in the footsteps of María, you can start immersing yourself in journalism by becoming an intern at a news station, taking back-stage tours of media stations, or even asking about shadowing opportunities.

Immerse Yourself

There are opportunities you can take a hold of to experience what goes on at their news stations. Victoria A. Perez interned at Univision’s station in El Paso, Texas. She carried out diverse tasks from answering phone calls to working with the cameras and news anchors. Her most rewarding moments included writing stories that were then broadcast on the weekend news programs.

To find out more about what internship opportunities are available, contact your local media stations or visit your school’s campus and see if they work out internship positions with students and your local Univision station.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Young Latinas are driven to be successful in social and professional situations. As strong chicas, little will get in the way of growing girls with determination and support on their side – so she can reach out and knock down life’s obstacles. There are some niñas out there who will find the reaching out part to be overwhelming. Seventeen year old, Destanee Saucedo describes how not being outgoing can cause her to “freak out” and think to herself “why can’t I talk?” when everyone else finds it easy being outgoing. Like Destanee, these girls are wallflowers; they are shy, and, whether you are an introvert or know someone who is, you know wallflowers have a lot to offer. It’s important to remember that when a young woman is shy it only means that her personality type is different from what’s considered the “ideal” social personality. According to a “Gentle Power: The Positive Psychology of Introversion,” the introvert, when driven by passion for what she is speaking up for, can “produce invaluable contributions, communities, and cultures.”  Introverts spend a lot of time absorbing the world around them, and as observers they save their words until they feel enough passion for what she is thinking to step outside of her comfort zone and be loud. When a shy girl speaks up, you better believe it’s because she has spent enough time in her head to decide that what she’s saying is important.

So how does a wallflower grow in a world that favors the outgoing? Here are few tips:

1. Think Small When Social. Being in large groups is often overwhelming for an introvert and going out of your way to plan hangouts in smaller groups might make it easier to feel comfortable. This means having real conversations instead of “small talk” and developing the intimate and real relationships shy girls tend to prefer. Planning a trip to the bookstore, a trip to a cafe, or a game night at home is a great way to spend time with a few friends without completely leaving your comfort zone.

Tip: Having that one friend who’s outgoing and makes you do things out of your comfort zone isn’t a bad idea. You never know what you could like until you try it with a little nudge from a friend. If your outgoing friend is forcing you to do something you’re not comfortable with at all, tell her to stop!

2. Make Time for “Nothing”.  Speaking up and being in large groups and busy settings can definitely tire a wallflower. Take little steps to getting out of your shell and recharge your batteries by finding time for yourself. Yes, chicas, this means that “doing nothing” is necessary. There is no shame in taking time to stay home every once in a while to daydream, work on hobbies, do chores, run errands or anything that gives you the alone time you need to balance social interactions.

3. Breathe When Your Brain Feels Busy. Introversion makes the brain busy and it’s important to be aware of this. Constant interior thinking can make it difficult to focus and makes your brain feel like it’s about to burst. Take time to pull yourself out of these situations and breathe. Feeling tired? Try taking a short breath in and take your time exhaling. Need to relax? Do the opposite and take a deep, slow breath in and breathe out quickly. This small act of mediation will do wonders within those moments you feel like your mind is working on overdrive.

4. Take a Moment to Step Out. In a busy setting it’s normal to want your “space,” so take a breather from the social gathering if your anxiety is at an all time high. Excusing yourself to go to the restroom can provide those minutes of recovery without interruption that just might get you through the day. You don’t have to make the bathroom your escape, use any area where you feel good enough to settle your nerves.

5. Be a Wallflower. Let’s face it, sometimes you have to go to that big event and talk to lots of people even though you might not want to. When you are in those situations, be yourself. If leaning against a wall to observe what’s going on around you or listening to the conversation more than adding to it is what you want to do, do it. More often than not, there will be another wallflower like yourself who feels just as nervous in the situation. Make sure you don’t lose your confidence simply because you’re quiet; you have lots to offer just by being yourself. Don’t cheat yourself out of social situations just because you think you won’t enjoy them. So, be you and trust yourself as a contributing chica in the world.

 

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.

 

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