EL PASO – Troubled young women dealing with pregnancy, depression, drug-abuse and attempted suicide can now find help in an organization created specifically for them.
Sonia Rangel, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for Latinitas, said it is important for pre-teen and teenage Latinas here to have a voice. The need to empower and inspire them in El Paso is critical because the rate of occurrence of these problems for Latinas here is the highest in Texas, according to the Latinitas website.
In a program entitled “Girl Empowerment Training,” volunteers learn how to mentor the girls. Through a series of hands-on work with multimedia equipment, the volunteers practice with cameras and voice recorders. In this training, the volunteers get the opportunity to look within through a series of questions such as, “What does leadership, mentor and empowerment mean and what does it mean to be a mentor?” Then they are able to teach the girls how to use the equipment for self-expression. Hands-on activities provided by the mentors include writing essays about favorite family holidays and the opportunity to interview each other on specific events they attended.
Latinitas co-founder Laura Donnelly Gonzalez told the mentors at a recent training session that, “We wanted to have young Latinas direct the content and to also deliver the content.” The media is responsible for creating those voices and Latinitas needs to shift it because the lack of representation is big, she said. “The experience is very powerful for them.”
Growing up on the border can be tough for young girls because the culture can be suffocating and is embedded in the El Paso community. “Because of institutional and systemic racism, patriarchy, and cultural hegemony, we might conclude that access to voice has been limited for a long time, and Latinas have been coming into their voices over the past 20-30 years,” said Stacey K. Sowards, Associate Professor in Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso.
According to Rossie Lopez, a Latinitas club leader, many girls share similar experiences. The Mexican customs they grow up with in the American culture of El Paso leave the girls confused and voiceless because they are minority girls. Their challenge is to balance their pride in heritage while embracing the American culture, Lopez said. Shame of origin is a shared feeling among them, complicated by an inability to express themselves, which leads to depression, lack of self esteem and emotional traumas. These young women can have different feelings about being in a minority. They are adolescents and they all have different characteristics. Many of the mentors have had similar experiences so they relate to the younger women.
Some of the themes discussed during the training session included how to deal with society’s inability to hear what these young women are going through. Their expressive development grows dramatically during their time in he program. “Girls by Girls” is one of the programs they offer in which the girls express themselves and motivate other peers with their learned communication skills. “They get to celebrate they’re culture,” co-founder Alicia Rascón says. “You cannot even predict the serious things they are going through.”
Sowards, who has worked with this organization for a few semesters, said that media offers these girls an opportunity for expression. “This program specifically focuses on empowerment through media, which is not always the same as what other programs do, so I think this offers a unique opportunity for Latinas to get involved with the creation, production, and use of media.”