Two Promising Latinas on getting selected for groundbreaking Movement Mujeres fellowship
This week, starry-eyed girls and women across the nation watched in admiration as women in Congress donned white outfits in honor of women’s suffrage during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. It was a symbol of women’s rights and equality for all — values that transcend gender, racial, political and cultural differences.
It’s a fitting follow-up to the 2018 midterm elections, which put a record number of women and people of color in political office. Among them is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who along with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), unveiled a bundle of proposals known as the Green New Deal, that envisions moving away from fossil fuels and other sources that cause global warming within 10 years.
In Texas, history was made when two Latinas — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia — were elected to federal office. This combined with a record number of Latino voters, many of them millennials or younger, points to a possibility of a once solid red state turning purple, and perhaps, even blue. This has progressives excited that the Lone Star State may become a more equitable place for people of color and women to live, work and play.
But even before the historic November election — Wendy Davis, who gained fame during her gubernatorial race against Gov. Greg Abbott and for a filibuster against stringent abortion restrictions in June 2013, and Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a Chicana activist who was the former head of Workers Defense Project before founding Jolt, a Latino political mobilization group responsible for registering thousands of Latinos to vote — were already strategizing ways to move Texas forward.
Last November they launched Movement Mujeres as the joint venture of Davis’ nonprofit Deeds Not Words, which inspires young women to be changemakers, and Jolt Initiative, the political arm of Jolt. The fellowship wants to disrupt the so-called ‘Good Old Boys Club’ that has shaped Texas government, policy and nonprofit sectors in favor of leadership that looks like the state it represents and fights for the causes its constituents most care about.
“In some ways, Movement Mujeres is a very basic program. It’s a program that’s trying to make our democracy reflective. It’s a program about investing in diverse leadership,” Tzintzun said in a press release. “But at the same time, in this state, it’s a radical proposition to say we are going to invest in the people who have been ignored and underestimated because we believe that they are the ones that are going to transform our state.”
Movement Mujeres recently announced its inaugural fellowship class comprised of 25 Texas women who will participate in a two-year developmental program to strengthen their leadership, public speaking, governance and policy capacity. The fellows, who range in ages 21 to 35 and represent 14 cities with a diverse set of priorities, will participate in intensive training, workshops and advocacy.
The first three sessions, held Feb. 28, March 1 and March 27, will include sessions on identity, power and story of self; a policy training session and Jolt Power Summit where they will lead groups in office visits to lobby around Senate bills 37, 32, and 33 related to higher education and student loans; and, Deeds Not Words advocacy day where they will visit legislators on a host of gender equality bills.
“In my many years of political experience, I’ve heard various versions of ‘Sit down and be quiet, little lady,’” said Davis in a statement. “Movement Mujeres was created to support women who want to ‘stand up and speak up’ instead, and I’m proud to be a part of teaching these extraordinary young women about the lessons I’ve learned on how to most effectively be heard.”
The list of fellows includes:
- Maria Oliveira | Austin
- Jasmine Robinson | Austin
- Erika Ramirez | Austin
- Lauren Rangel | Austin
- Marla Lopez | Austin
- Sadie M. Hernandez | Brownsville
- Melissa Garcia | Brownsville
- Andrea Flores | Cedar Hill
- Stephanie Villanueva | Cypress
- Dorothy Villarreal | Dallas
- Mercedes D. Fulbright | Dallas
- Cathryn McClellan | Dallas
- Biviana Hurtado | Dallas
- Gabriela Castaneda | El Paso
- Mercedes G. Molina | Euless
- Veronica Whitehead | Garland
- Kwentoria A. Williams | Houston
- Edith Rahimian | Houston
- Sanam Batool Anwar | Kemah
- Saleeta Rajwani | Lewisville
- Jasmin Estrada | Taylor
- Belén Iñiguez | Tyler
Latinitas Magazine recently met with two of the Latina fellows to learn about why they applied for the program and what they hope to gain from the opportunity. We are presenting our conversations with them in separate question-and-answer segments.
First is Sadie Monique Hernandez, who wears many hats as
Her accomplishments have been covered by Cosmopolitan, Yahoo, CNN and Broadly. You can follow her on social media @sadieeehdz.
Q&A with Hernandez
It sounds like you’re especially passionate about politics in the reproductive and immigrant justice sectors. Can you talk about how your Latina roots and womanhood helped define these issues as your priority?
Hernandez: I was born in Brownsville, a border city, and that informed me of my immigrant rights and how your citizenship status impacts your daily life. I grew up with Planned Parenthood down the street and was familiar with government assistance programs like CHIP and WIC, but I didn’t know those programs were looked down upon until I moved out of town.
When I turned 18, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do art or politics, so I moved to Austin, which forced me out of my border town and out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t until I arrived here that I became aware of the ugly inter-workings of politics.
Everyone deserves dignity and a chance at life regardless of where you were born or what your citizenship status is. I experienced racism for the first time, and it gave me that ugly reality check and it really motivated me
Hernandez: We are a super Mexican town where the culture is very rich and there is an array of small businesses, mom and pop shops and lots of Mexican food. There aren’t very many chains. We have the annual Charro Days Festival to celebrate the transnationalism of the city partnership with Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. It’s something to be celebrated and seen as beautiful.
Brownsville gave me an exemplary example of celebrating culture and not demonize it. The same thing goes with income. Not everyone there is wealthy – the average salary is like $30,000 – but we live within our means.
Brownsville is a great example of the world we could live in because of our culture, the language we speak and how it’s an expression of resilience, and how we can still live our best lives despite oppression.
Your work has been highlighted by many publications. What do you consider
Hernandez: No matter what organization I work with I always remind people about the RGV as a special place. When I was working with Advocates for Youth organizing for LGBTQ and reproductive rights, I was one of two people from the Valley who was selected for the
No matter where I am and what I do, everyone knows I’m going to be talking about the Valley.
What skills and talents do you bring to the Movement Mujeres cohort?
Hernandez: I really want to make sure when we’re communicating these issues that we’re putting them in terms everyone can understand and connect to their own lives. The language has purposely been crafted to exclude people who aren’t highly educated or have less access to resources and support.
I also think it’s important to give people the terms and language to explain these things without shaming others with opposing views. You can be passionate about social justice without letting it ruin your life and making you super angry. You can care about things but also have hobbies and a life.
What are hoping to learn or gain from this opportunity?
Hernandez: I’m really hoping to network with other Latinx women who are also doing this work and to practice self-care while balancing social justice work. This is a 24-hour job so being able to connect with other women in the same boat is something I feel is very valuable.
I’m excited about the mentorship of other Latinx women who experienced the old school Chicano Movement and have seen machismo diminished to the point where we’re now advocating for workplace feminism. I want to learn about the struggle of those who had to go through this and came out on top.
The mission of this fellowship is groundbreaking and ambitious. Why are you proud of this team of future leaders of Texas?
Hernandez: Being in a platform where I can gain a statewide community of powerful but grounded women is something that’s exciting. When it comes to Chicano rights everything is so heavily focused on California so knowing we can do a Latinx female-centered fellowship in Texas is something I’m super excited about because it’s giving these women the tools to grow and bring people into the movement as well.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Hernandez: I’m always advocating for not allowing different barriers to keep you from doing what you think you can do. Academic elitism is something that is very present and as someone who didn’t complete college and is still able to do what I wanted, because I’m passionate and work hard, other barriers whether academic, physical ability, should not be allowed to hold us back. It’s something that really grounds me in my work.
The second fellow is Mercedes G. Molina, a senior majoring in International Political Economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. She was born in Dallas and raised in Euless. She is passionate about serving and learning more about the DFW community through organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, UTD Undergraduate Success Scholars
Molina is working in Austin during the current Legislative session. She wants to pursue legal education this fall to better serve her community and be a role model to her nieces and nephews.
Q & A with Molina
Why are you passionate about women’s and Latino rights and political leadership?
Molina: I grew up in a predominantly lower-income Mexican American Dallas community, with strong family connections. My mom was a really strong individual and is very active in trying to help others out. I have other family role models as well. Seeing that the entire time I was growing up, really inspired me to want to help others.
I saw things that were impacting the Latino community and my relatives as well. The same thing goes for women’s rights. I thought about these things but not in terms of policy issues so as I got older, I understood things better. As soon as realized this, I dove head first into politics and trying to understand issues that impact communities.
How did being a Latina, a woman and a resident from North Texas define your political aspirations?
Molina: I was in middle school when I moved to Euless. It was a very different place and Trinity High School was voted most diverse high school in the nation. I was exposed to individuals I had never known before and cultures I had no clue about. I listened and learned from people from different communities and realized the same issues that affect your community affect theirs.
What lessons have you learned from your time in organizations like LULAC, Undergraduate Success Scholars and Jolt?
Molina: I have learned that sometimes you’re going to fail and sometimes things are going to happen that you’re not expecting to happen. If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, there are always others around you who know more about something than you. So many things will happen that you have no idea about especially working with LULAC. My council was very diverse, and it had Latinos from different heritages and backgrounds. One of my closet friends is from Honduras and another is from Puerto Rico but has Columbian parents.
When you think of Latinos in Texas you think of predominantly Mexican Americans. This diversity of opinions and background definitely helps you with your own opinions and understanding of the world around you.
So, you go to school at UTD but are in Austin for the Legislative session. Are you here on an internship?
Molina: It’s an internship program through UTD Texas Legislative Internship Program. I’m working with Rep. Ramon Romero, Jr., from Fort Worth. I’m a legislative aid and help with research, bill analysis, drafting different bills for the office and talking to constituents. Rep. Romero has an open-door policy and likes us to voice our opinions and we are able to be very open with how we feel about different bills and how we feel about possible consequences out in communities. This session I’m in charge of education and higher education policy which are hot-button topics.
How do you feel you make a difference through this internship?
Molina: I feel I’m able to learn about people from House District 90 and the issues that affect them most. It’ll help me move forward with advocacy and communication work. It’s really important to me to be able to listen to constituents and other individuals they are advocating on behalf of. It’s really helpful for me so that I’m able to understand and frame the world around me.
What do you hope to learn or gain from this Movement Mujeres opportunity?
Molina: I hope to gain public relations experience regarding public speaking and outreach, in addition to help gain resources and meet other amazing women, especially in the policy sector.
I’m excited about becoming a civil rights attorney. I just a received a couple of acceptance letters to law school so I’m deciding on where I’m going to be next fall.
The mission of this fellowship is pretty groundbreaking and ambitious. Why are you proud to be part of this team of future leaders of Texas?
Molina: I love to be around people who inspire me. I don’t think that I would be where I was if it wasn’t for these strong individuals. I’m surrounded by my sister who is a strong woman and raising two children right now and my mother who is always strong and helping others. My family members and my friends who are extremely intelligent and ambitious.
I love my nieces and nephews so much. I’ve never had someone look up to me like they do so I want to be the best version of myself for them.
All fellows will receive a $1,200 yearly stipend and travel and childcare expenses. When the fellowship ends, the women will know how to lobby on behalf of Movement Mujeres’ agenda, organize locally on key issues important to them, write op-eds and more. To learn more visit MovementMujeres.com.
Editor’s note: The Q&A portion of this piece was edited for clarity and length.
Christine Bolaños serves as managing editor of Latinitas Magazine. The 2016 International Women’s Media Foundation fellow is an Austin, Texas-based freelance journalist focused on the areas of social justice and women’s empowerment. Her work has most recently been published by NPR’s Latino USA, Remezcla, Latina Style Magazine, the Daily Dot, Project Pulso, Mitu and many other national outlets. The award-winning writer is a proud Salvadoran-American and an advocate for women of color in the media.