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This Chicana Started A Collective For Girl Skaters To Confidently Take Up Space In Los Angeles

For Leti Lomeli, skating always provided her with sisterhood. Playing roller derby for nearly a decade in Phoenix, Arizona, the team contact sport was a community of mostly Latina girls who had each other’s backs and were always bigging one another up. So when the Chicana moved to Los Angeles in her 20s, she was surprised to find that skating was predominantly the realm of white male bros, far from the inviting space she knew and loved. To survive in the new unfamiliar city busting with opportunity, she started the LA chapter of Chicks in Bowls (CIB), an international group building inclusive skatepark communities and experiences.

“It’s more of a structure to get people there, to get more variety and diversity in the skatepark and take up space,” Lomeli, 28, told FIERCE.

After dedicating so much of her life to derby, Lomeli didn’t want to commit herself to the sport as she had in the past. Moving to California to focus on her graduate degree and career, she wanted to enjoy her lifelong hobby without team responsibilities. She hoped it would be fun. But when the transplant first visited a skatepark, her excitement immediately swiveled to insecurity. Alone in a park filled with overweening men, she scurried back to her car, feeling unwelcome in an environment that usually felt like home.

“It was all guys, all skateboards, no quad skates. It was so intimidating to be there by myself. I felt like such a weenie. I left. I didn’t feel comfortable,” she said.

The Gnar Gnar Honeys

Hoping to never relive that moment of unease again, Lomeli began searching for diverse skate spaces in LA. She didn’t find one, but she did discover a larger network that would ultimately allow her to create the community she was hungry for: Chicks in Bowls. Founded in 2012 by New Zealand derby skater-graphic designer-entrepreneur Lady Trample, CIB creates and promotes mostly-girl, but open to all genders, roller skate crews around the world. With more than 300 chapters across the globe, the space brings seasoned skaters together with newbies in an environment where they can feel safe, comfortable and excited to do what they love.

While there was already a CIB group in Long Beach, Calif., Lomeli made her case to Lady Trample on why the sizeable and diverse city of Los Angeles needed its own crew, too. In 2016, Chicks in Bowls LA was born, with Lomeli at its helm. She eagerly began organizing meet-ups, which she’d promote on social media. As she anticipated, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the collective she was creating. During any given event, a group of about 30 women skaters took over bowls, confidently entering spaces enmass where they otherwise felt excluded from.

“We just wanted to take up space and own it. We wanted to let them know, we are going to be here, and you’re going to be OK with it. We are going to do what people come to the skatepark for,” she said.

During meet-ups, some women took the opportunity to skate freely while others taught newcomers the basics. Regardless of why the girls came, though, Lomeli wanted them to leave feeling one way: welcomed, not like she did the first time she hit an LA skatepark.

But even among a group of powerful girls, creating an environment where everyone feels safe and secure isn’t always easy.

The Gnar Gnar Honeys

“It’s mostly the feeling of intimidation that comes with being surrounded by testosterone and eyes. They might not say anything, but it’s just a big deal to go in there and take up that space. There are certain instances when they do say something or it does get physical, though,” she said.

On one occasion, a male skater, who she says wasn’t practicing proper park etiquette, crashed into her. He then blamed her and wrongfully told her she wasn’t allowed to have roller skates in the bowl. During another event, there was a drunk male skater loudly taunting some of the women in her group. Lomeli put a stop to the jeers.

“For new girls entering a park and seeing this, it’s scary,” she said. “But having other women there, watching them stand their ground, it shows you, ‘I can do this, too.’”

Lomeli, who has since stepped down from her role as president of CIB LA to focus on her career as an applied behavior analyst and explore other recreational passions, says she started the group for selfish reasons: to create the community she felt she needed. However, through that, she was able to organize a collective that extended far beyond her and would excel even without her leadership.

The Gnar Gnar Honeys

While the former roller derby player, who has replaced her skates for dance shoes in recent months, may no longer be active in the scene she helped create in Los Angeles, her message, especially for Latinas, remains the same: be bold about your greatness.

“Because we are women and Latinas, we are told to be humble, be quiet, don’t make daring statements. Fuck that! Make your accomplishments known. Be loud and proud about them. Confidently take up space,” she said.

This story was done in collaboration with the The Gnar Gnar Honeys.

Read: Not Seeing Women Represented In Extreme Sports, This Colombiana Skater Created An All-Girl Collective In Bogotá

Los Angeles Made History After Nury Martinez Became The First Latina City Council President

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Los Angeles Made History After Nury Martinez Became The First Latina City Council President

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There was some history made this past Tuesday as Nury Martinez was unanimously elected as the first Latina president in the 110-year history of the Los Angeles City Council. With a unanimous 14-0 vote, albeit Councilman Gil Cedillo was absent, the council chose to put Martinez at the head of one of the most important positions in the city. 

With the historic vote, the San Fernando Valley Councilwoman will be succeeding outgoing Council President Herb Wesson, the first African-American to head the council. Martinez will become just the second woman ever elected to serve as LA city council president. Before Martinez, Councilwoman Pat Russell was the first and only woman elected back in 1983. 

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who worked as a dishwasher and a factory worker, Martinez took time to credit and thank them during a speech on Tuesday.

Her humble beginnings growing up in Pacoima, a predominantly Latino working-class community in the San Fernando Valley, taught her the importance of hard work. Martinez saw her mom and dad work tirelessly for her family so she could have a chance at success one day. That day came on Tuesday. 

“As the daughter of immigrants, as a daughter of a dishwasher and factory worker, it is incredibly, incredibly personal for me to ensure that children and families in this city become a priority for all of us, to ensure our children have a safe way to walk home every day … to ensure that our families feel safe,” Martinez said on Tuesday. “And first and foremost, to ensure that children living in motels, children that are facing homelessness, finally become a priority of our city, to ensure that we … find them permanent housing for them to grow up.”

Martinez is the product of public schools and became the first in her family to graduate from college. She began her career serving her own community as part of the City of San Fernando Council from 2003-2009 then followed that as a member of the L.A. Unified School Board from 2009-2013. 

It was her upset victory in 2013 beating out well-known Democrat Cindy Montañez, a former state assemblywoman, for a seat on the city council that put her on the LA political map. Despite trailing 19 points after the primary city election, Martinez would win in the general election by 969 votes. 

“To think, six years ago, I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I worked so hard and I was able to turn it around,” Martinez told the LA Times. “It’s not only an honor, but I really and truly feel blessed. And I just want to make everyone proud.”

Martinez has previously taken on issues like ending homelessness, installing rent control laws and supporting low-income families. She hopes to continue fighting for this and similar issues as president of the city council. 

As part of the city council, Martinez worked on behalf of the many families in the San Fernando Valley taking on issues like housing projects, rent control, and paid family leave. These issues will continue to be part of her agenda as president of the city council as well as advocating for children and families. 

“It’s monumental. She looks like the face of L.A. and she’s been elected to the highest position possible,” Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus with California State University, Los Angeles, told LAist.  “Usually people consider city council president to be a stepping stone to elsewhere — and we’ll see what the future holds.”

The significant moment wasn’t lost on many who congratulated Martinez for this historic stepping stone for Latinas everywhere. 

Another trailblazer, Gloria Molina, who was first Latina ever elected to the City Council, told the LA Times that Martinez has an incredible opportunity in front of her to bring real change and representation to the position. 

“She has a real opportunity to bring so much change,” Molina said. “She has an opportunity to create a balance. Martinez’s election is “a very significant accomplishment, not just as a Latina but as a woman. It’s still a men’s game there.”

As the council vote was officially confirmed and the motion to elect Martinez passed, there was a loud eruption of applause from those in the council chamber. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on Martinez who said that she will use the opportunity to highlight the best that Latinos can offer. 

“I think it’s important to continue to show the rest of the country what this community is made of,” she said. “The Latinos are ready to lead and we’re very grateful to be part of this wonderful country called America.”

READ: Julian Castro Says Kamala Harris Dropped Out Because Of An Unfair Media That Covers People Of Color Differently

Thousands Of People Gathered At An East LA High School To Show Their Support For Bernie Sanders

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Thousands Of People Gathered At An East LA High School To Show Their Support For Bernie Sanders

Javier Rojas / mitú

The latest stop on the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign trail hit East Los Angeles this past Saturday where a rally was held with efforts to mobilize voters in the predominantly Latino community. An estimated crowd of over 5,200 people showed up to  Woodrow Wilson High School in El Sereno to cheer on the Vermont senator. 

Signs that read “Bernie” and “Unidos con Bernie” could be seen well into the flock of supporters that chanted his name all afternoon. Before Sanders took the stage, supporters were energized by a performance Ozomatli, an East LA-based Latin rock band, who endorsed the senator just like they previously did in 2016. The energy of the crowd hit a peak point when Sanders emerged to take the stage and a booming “Bernie” chant took over the rally. 

Sanders took the stage addressing issues like education reform, leveling inequality and recent hot button issues like gun control. 

“Gun policy in this country, under my administration, will not be determined by the NRA,” Sanders told the crowd. “It will be determined by the American people and the American people want is common-sense gun safety legislation now.”

Bernie Sanders struck a chord with Latinos in California, particularly in East LA, where his campaign team debuted its first California office. As it stands, 34 percent of likely Democratic Latino voters under 30 support Sanders in his presidential run. 

Credit: Javier Rojas / mitú

The economy, healthcare and education are some of the biggest issues to Latino voters and Sanders has made efforts to make those some of his key campaign focal points. His campaign has resonated with more Latino voters in California than any other Democratic candidate. According to a recent poll by Latino Community Foundation, 31 percent of Latino voters would vote for Sanders, beating former Vice President Joe Biden, polling at 22 percent; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, polling at 11 percent, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, polling 9 percent.

When it comes to donating to his campaign, Latino voters have also been there for Sanders. From January to July, the Sanders team brought in an estimated $4.7 million from Latinos through the online fundraising platform ActBlue. His grassroots support from his previous 2016 run has seemed to follow into the 2020 election race with many young voters leading the way. 

“There’s lots of Latinos in California, there’s lots of working-class young people, and working-class voters and lots of folks who have a history of standing up against power,” Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser with the Sanders campaign, told the LA Times. “Bernie Sanders is their candidate, and all we have to do is give them the tools to be reminded of when to vote and where he stands on the issues and they will show up.”

On Saturday, many of those young voters voiced their support for Sanders and his campaign that touched on many vital issues that Latinos say matter to them. 

Credit: Javier Rojas / mitú

Fernando Salas, 19, lives in nearby Boyle Heights and has been a Sanders fan before he could even cast a vote back in 2016. He says that Sanders became popular among him and his friends during high school because of his proposed policies on the environment and tuition-free public college.

“I couldn’t even vote when I first heard of Bernie but I knew he was my guy right away,” Salas says as he holds up a “Viva Bernie” sign. “He cares about issues that my friends and I are talking about so why not Bernie.”

Sanders received loud applause at the rally when raising issues like education reform, canceling student debt, tuition-free public colleges and raising teachers’ wages.

“I will make sure that every teacher in America earns at least $60,000 because I believe in human rights,” Sanders said. “We believe that everybody, regardless of their income and background, has the right to get a higher education.”

If Sanders is going to win the Democratic nomination, he’s going to most likely have to win the Latino vote as well. 

Credit: Javier Rojas / mitú

For years, many political pundits have pointed toward the growing U.S. Latino population as a deciding force when it comes to voting power. This upcoming election will be a test of that power as Latinos are expected to be the largest minority voting group, exceeding Black voters for the first time ever. 

The Sanders campaign has done its work when it comes to winning this ever-important demographic group. Whether its hiring Latino workers as part of his campaign team or putting forth comprehensive immigration plans that address issues like DACA, Sanders has touched on all the right buttons for a large portion of Latino voters.

Salas says at the heart of the Sanders campaign is to help the “little people” in this country and he feels that he can deliver on that. 

“He’s been fighting this fight for many years now and I feel that after 2016, this is his time,” Salas says with hope.

READ: Despite A New Law, Some New York County Clerks Say They’ll Refuse To Give Undocumented Residents Driver’s Licenses