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Building Community: Latinas Take Media Representation into Their Own Hands

Tickets for the upcoming We All Grow Latina Summit — a networking and empowerment conference that draws over 500 women from across the U.S. and beyond — sold out in a record-breaking three hours and six minutes. The annual gathering, geared toward Latina bloggers, content producers, and creative entrepreneurs provides a vibrant networking space for attendees to share their professional journeys and provide inspiration and support for aspiring Latinas in the digital space. The event also features prominent beauty and lifestyle bloggers, TV, radio and social media personalities and company founders that share a common message — high-paying, professional careers are attainable, despite historic underrepresentation of successful Latinas in mainstream TV, news and magazines.

“Once you see it done, you can see yourself reflected and you have a path,” says Ana Flores, founder, and CEO of We All Grow Latina Network, the organization behind the popular summit. With a motto like “When one grows, we all grow,” the network is providing the representation Latinas need to continue to pursue goals such as one-day producing award-winning content, becoming spokespeople for major brands, or even starting a business.

Although Latinos continue to be one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States, a gap in ethnic representation in the media persists. By producing informational webinars and workshops to help social media influencers monetize their content, connecting bloggers to brands for paid partnership opportunities and hosting events for creatives to engage with one another, the organization provides the tools necessary for Latinas to feel empowered to achieve career success in the face of lingering marginalization.

“I couldn’t see myself represented,” says Flores. As a working single mother, she felt that the online content she came across did not speak to her particular interests, nor did it come from a source that felt familiar to her. She explains that while she followed several popular parenting blogs, they often fell short in featuring content on topics like raising bilingual children in the U.S. and cooking traditional Latin dishes — that’s when she saw a need and decided to jump in.

“I’ve had to carve my own path,” she adds, “(I realized) I can create it on my own and reach to that community that doesn’t have anybody talking to them right now.” She first launched the online network in 2010 after recognizing a need for Latin American online content by Latin American bloggers, content creators, and entrepreneurs. Her mission to uplift and empower the Latina community by providing tools, community, and representation has grown into a national conference and an online network of nearly 10,000 connected Latinas that now leverage their newfound relationships for opportunities for advancement within the digital sector.

Representation at its core definition means “the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.” When put into the context of career advancement and opportunity, seeing someone achieve a particular milestone may have a galvanizing impact on one’s confidence, but the absence thereof may magnify negative feelings of self-worth.

According to a study by the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, these effects can begin to form as early as the childhood years. “Media-based experiences contribute to users’ knowledge structures, including their person schemata (i.e., typical characteristics of people or groups of people) and their behavioral scripts (expectations of how people behave in particular situations),” say the researchers. This impact on how a child sees others, and in turn, how they see themselves has fueled Flores’ passion for her network.

“We have so many entrepreneurs right now, so many bloggers and influencers that have come from being teen moms, in gangs, growing up in South Central, talking about LA or Chicago et cetera, now being able to transform and share those stories and really give mentorship and inspiration to girls that think that there is no path for them because nobody is offering them that,” says Flores.

Representation, mentorship and role models have one thing in common: inspiration. “It’s so important to have someone to look up to — not one, but many people that can inspire you,” says Davina A. Ferreira, founder and CEO of Alegria Magazine. Founded in 2012, the bilingual media company praises the achievements of prominent Latinos and celebrates the beauty of Latino culture through the curation and publication of a luxury magazine distributed digitally and in print.

Before starting Alegria, Ferreira recognized a void within both English and Spanish mainstream media. “I saw that everything for Latinos and for Latinas was very low end,” says Ferreira, “I wanted to create a platform that was inspiring and high-end and shows respect to our community.”

As a Latina who’s passionate about providing representation and role models for the next generation, Ferreira noticed that most of the Latinos that made it to top network news were celebrities and entertainers. While Alegria covers pop culture topics as well, there’s an effort to feature stories of other Latinos, such as Spring 2018 cover girls Millana Snow, Edna Chavez, Julissa Arce, and Sarahi Espinoza, who have achieved success as social activists, authors and company founders, and deserve a moment in the media spotlight.

Although more Latinos are going to college than ever before, many tend to be the first in their families to pursue higher education, which can make professional career mentorship an entirely new experience. “Latinos living here (in the United States) don’t see a lot of those role models growing up or in their family,” says Ferreira, “It’s so important for them to really look forward and pursue their dreams and get the confidence to just think a little different outside of their environment.”

While some major news sites may seem like they’re focused on covering people and companies that already have more press than they can list in their ‘about me’ section, Entrepreneur Magazine says they’re always in search for unique entrepreneurial stories. “We’re always looking for stories that will be valuable to our reader, so that’s our priority,” says Stephanie Schomer, Deputy Editor at Entrepreneur. But where does representation come into play? Though she is a white woman working for a 41-year-old American magazine founded by a white man, she explains that both she and the magazine recognize that their readership is diverse and needs to feel both represented and acknowledged.

“It’s not just about checking a box,” says Schomer, “Covering the entrepreneurial journeys of women, people of color, and women of color is how we can best serve our audience.” With successful spin-off magazines like Women Entrepreneur, it’s clear the publisher values serving specialized content to targeted audiences. “Different points of view and different opinions are the bread and butter of entrepreneurship, so to do our job well and inspire our readers, we need to make sure they’re hearing from many voices,” Schomer adds. As far as the rest of the major news sites, Schomer admits that there’s work to be done in both storytelling and newsroom staffing. It will take a combination of strong diverse voices and mainstream leadership that’s willing to listen to a new generation of innovators in order to turn the spotlight on inspiring stories that would otherwise go unnoticed by major publications. The Latino population throughout the nation is projected to undergo significant change when it comes to growth, education, representation, and career opportunity. Armed with a mission to establish a more accurate representation of what success looks like in the US, Latinas like Flores, Ferreira and many others are continuing to build online and offline communities to grow their networks, ignite empowerment and feel represented. “I know we’re there,” says Flores. “I know that there are incredible women that can be featured and doing everything from astronauts to entrepreneurs, to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) — we’re there.

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Keke Palmer Made History By Becoming The First Black VMAs Host In 33-Years

Entertainment

Keke Palmer Made History By Becoming The First Black VMAs Host In 33-Years

Frazer Harrison / Getty

Since her appearance at Black Lives Matter protests, just about everyone knows that Keke Palmer is a whole mood. She’s proving to be a history maker too.

Over the weekend, the 26-year-old actress became the first Black woman to host the VMAs in thirty-three years. For her appearance, she paid tribute to Black people, the movement, and Chadwick Boseman.

All while stunning in vintage Versace.

During her hosting duties, Palmer kicked off the show with her most powerful Black Lives Matter message yet.

Dressed in a feather-fringed art deco gown Palmer took to the digital stage with an impassioned speech about the power of music to make cultural change. “This is incredible. I can’t believe MTV asked me to host. I don’t know if I was their first choice or the only one brave enough to do it during COVID,” Palmer joked. “Either way, I got the job!”

“As rough as it’s been, there have been incredible moments of inspiration that have given my generation hope,” she went onto continue. “We’ve seen heroes going above and beyond, whether they drive a delivery truck, work at a grocery store, or serve on the front lines in a hospital. And with the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen our generation step up, take to the streets, and make sure our voices will be heard. Enough is enough!”

Speaking about the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake, Palmer said his murder was “yet another devastating reminder that we can’t stop.”

“We can never tolerate police brutality. Or any injustice. We must continue the fight to end systemic racism,” Palmer explained saying that it is “time to be the change we want to see.”

“Music has that power. Music can help us heal,” she went onto share. “It’s all love, and that’s what tonight is about.”

Before officially kicking off the show, Palmer dedicated the show to the memory of Chadwick Boseman.

“Before we get into the music tonight, we need to talk about the devastating loss of Chadwick Boseman, an actor whose talent and passion is a true inspiration to all the fans he touched and everyone he encountered,” Palmer said. “We dedicate tonight’s show to a man whose spirit touched so many. He is a true hero. Not just onscreen but in everything he did. His impact lives forever.”

Over the weekend, Palmer became the first woman of color to host the show since 1986. Back then -MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown co-hosted the show.

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Praise Be! This Evangelical Luther Pastor Is Making History As A Trans Latina

Fierce

Praise Be! This Evangelical Luther Pastor Is Making History As A Trans Latina

@nicoleg152 / Twitter

Growing up transgender, Nicole Garcia used to pray for God to “fix” her. Like many Latinas, she was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and back in the 1960s, she was expected to fulfill a strict stereotype as the eldest son in the family. She attended multiple church services every weekend and played guitar with the choir, but as she got older, this religious pressure started to weigh on her. So, in her early 20s, she left the church altogether—only to return nearly forty years later as history’s first openly transgender Latina Lutheran pastor.

After leaving the church as a young adult, Garcia embraced an unknown sense of rebellion, ultimately falling into a lifestyle of nearly constant partying. Drinking seemed to justify her desire to “dress up” and date men, but when several years had passed, she found herself in a down-and-out position, with a low-paying job and poor health from her abuse of alcohol.

“I realized something had gone terribly wrong,” she told NBC News. “I decided it was time to change my life.”

Credit: Moose Gazette

At this time, Garcia had been living with her cousin, but she decided that she was ready to find her own apartment. After securing a new home in the nearby town of Longmont, Garcia met her future wife at a karaoke night, and they were married a year later, in 1994. Together, they moved to downtown Denver, where Garcia began her career as a corrections officer. Things were starting to come together, but despite how much better her new life seemed, Garcia still felt an overwhelming sense of unease, a sense of exhaustion at still having to pretend.

She still wanted to wear women’s clothes, and she still felt at odds with her body. After 8 years of this underlying personal tension—amplified by a stressful job and excessive drinking—Garcia’s marriage started to falter. She and her wife separated in 2002, and even though the previous years had proven to be difficult, she couldn’t help but wonder why she had thrown everything away.

“I had my come-to-Jesus moment,” she said. “It wasn’t one of those, ‘Oh please, oh please, help me’ . . .  It was more, ‘Alright you son of a b—h, if I’m going to come back, you better step it up this time.’”

Nicole Michelle Garcia on Saturday Nov 23rd became Pastor Nicole Garcia.

Posted by Westview Church, Boulder CO on Thursday, December 5, 2019

Shortly after this “come-to-Jesus moment,” Garcia started attending free therapy sessions specifically for corrections officers. The therapy proved to be an opportunity for her to share the secret she had been hiding her whole life, the secret that had caused her so much discomfort and turmoil. After revealing to her therapist that she loved to wear women’s clothing—that she had felt compelled to do so for her entire life—she had another revelation.

“I told her . . . that for my entire life, as long as I can remember, I have always loved wearing women’s clothing,” Garcia said. “I realized in that moment that I’ve always been Nicole; I’ve always been a woman.”

From then on, Garcia knew that the next step was to transition. Her therapist encouraged her to visit the Gender Identity Center of Colorado for more information about how to move forward. There, she met another transitioning law enforcement officer who invited her attend a service at Denver’s Saint Paul Lutheran Church.

This service would also prove to have life-changing effects on Garcia’s future. A year after she started to transition, Garcia formally joined the Lutheran church, and over the course of the next five years, she became the transgender representative for the board of directors of Reconciling in Christ, an organization that advocates for religious acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

Although Garcia felt immediately welcome within the Lutheran denomination, her relationship with her mother experienced some strain—in the initial stages of her transition, Garcia had to present as male in her parents’ home, pulling her back into a ponytail and wearing her work uniform.

It took nearly a year for her mother to accept her as Nicole, but in the end, Garcia’s mother was elated that she had returned to the church. In 2013, Garcia took her religious practice to the next level: she enrolled in seminary, and after several years studying scripture, Garcia has now stepped into her role as pastor for the newly formed Westview Lutheran Church in Boulder. Garcia’s first-ever service was also the church’s inaugural service, a symbolic coincidence that suggests great promise and progress for LGBTQ leaders in the religious community.

Garcia said that she hopes her presence will inspire other LGBTQ and POC folks to embrace their own faith, though she also acknowledges that while it is important, her trans identity does not define her relationship with the church.

“Nobody can question my faith, my devotion to Christ, my devotion to the church. That’s why I’m the pastor here,” Garcia said. “Being trans is secondary.”

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