Knowing the Struggle of Unpaid Internships, Two Jefas Started Latinx44 to Help Fund Latinxs’ Internships in Washington D.C.
Landing the internship of your dreams a goal for many students. It’ll look great on your resume, help you gain skills and experience useful for your career, and help you make connections that could lead to a big job. But sometimes these internships come with a catch – they’re not paid, or don’t pay enough money to make ends meet even for a student’s standard. Alexa Kissinger and Antoinette Rangel know exactly what that’s like and that’s why they worked to change that.
“Most of these internships are either unpaid or a small stipend. I almost turned down the White House internship because I could not afford it but thankfully got a scholarship through my college which paid for room and board. I babysat at night and ate the free lunches at events so I wouldn’t have to eat dinner,” says Alexa.
Antoinette went on to express how she “would intern from 8-5 and at night work as a waitress” to “get by financially.”
With bills and school loans and tuition to pay, getting an unpaid internship or an internship that doesn’t pay enough, often leaves many students having to pass up on this opportunity.
A 2016 report from Intern Bridge proved that women were 77% more likely than men to have unpaid internships.
Another study by the National Association of College and Employers 2019-2020 proved that students of color are least likely to have paid internships or internship experience at all compared to their white counterparts. The study found that Latinx and Black students were largely underrepresented in the internship sector of their study because of the lack of paid internships and the lack of privilege for many Latinx or Black students to be able to take an unpaid internship in the first place.
And with internships in Washington D.C. that figure can take an even bigger dip. A 2017 report from Pay Our Interns stated that only 8% of Republican House Representatives pay their interns while only 3% of Democratic House Representatives pay their interns.
Alexa and Antoinette started Latinx44 so that Latinxs would have the opportunity to take the internship of their dreams without worrying about an additional financial burden.
“A woman named Deesha inspired us. She had an unprecedented career being an intern in her late 30s while also going to community college and eventually became the last Social Secretary for the Obama Administration. She, about a year and a half ago, started Black Girl 44 for Black students. And one day Antoinette reached out to me said why don’t we do something similar for the Latinx community?” said Alexis Kissinger. “Now we’ve expanded this scholarship where any gender can apply.”
Latinx44, referencing former President Obama who was the 44th president, started as a grassroots non-profit organization designed to fund a Latinx college or graduate student with a public-service internship in Washington D.C.
Both Alexa and Antoinette worked for the Obama administration amongst other Latinx staffers in his administration. Hence why they call themselves the Latinx 44 Alumni association. While this non-profit is not affiliated with the Obama administration, both Alexa and Antoinette accredit their experience working there as one of the reasons their passionate about this project.
“I remember being at the last speech President Obama gave and hearing him say ‘the most important office is the one of citizen,'” says Alexa. “So, we want the next generation to find their purpose in how they’re going to affect change by serving others.”
Alexa worked in the department of hiring Latinx and other POCs staffers and eventually went on to be the special assistant to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Antoinette started as a Political Affairs Intern and moved to multiple positions such as a staffer on communications team, a liaison between the press and President Obama himself, a Deputy Director of Hispanic Media doing communications with bilingual media platforms and also Josh Earnest’s assistant and advisor until leaving to go work for Hillary Clinton.
It was during their time in the Obama administration where they made connections with what they call “an extremely diverse class of staffers and interns,” who still work in public office today. This vast network is where they were able to get support for their Latinx44 non-profit.
“We originally tried to fundraise for three scholars. But the response of donations was incredible. So now, we have enough for 10 scholarships this summer!” exclaimed Alexa. “Many people in the Obama administration and other appointees from our networks and alumni have donated to this scholarship. It’s all grassroots from our networks who want to help the next generation.”
Still a very new program, this summer 2021 is when Latinx44 will give it’s first class of scholarships.
These two women, who now work in the law sector, stated that the purpose behind this scholarship program hits close to home for them, both personally and for their colleagues who donated. Many of their colleagues who donated shared stories of when they’d have to sleep in their car or endure other obstacles due to the financial obstacles of unpaid internships.
“Alexa and I feel very strongly that there should not be barriers to opportunities like working in public service.” said Antoinette.
Because if it wasn’t for their internships, they wouldn’t be where they are today. One of Antoinette’s college mentors even discouraged her from applying to the White House internship because she said “Those internship’s go to fundraiser’s children and senator’s nieces.”
“And I just think that’s a very short-sided way of looking at it because we all need to be at the table. That’s why I feel passionate about my Latino background. There has been a lot of adversity in my family that we’ve had to overcome. The people who are making decisions affect education, healthcare, and national security, all of which are different issues that impact the Latino community. Latinos should be at the table and we don’t allow those opportunities to happen if they are not getting the same internship experience as some of their peers.” Says Antionette.
Antoinette continues “Brown students should be able to take those opportunities and not have to turn them down just because they can’t afford to work for free.”
Regardless of background or socioeconomic status, non-profit organizations like Latinx44 are meant to create a means for Latinx students to get extra help in their Washington D.C. internship. And not just financially. Winning the scholarship will also pair you up with a professional mentor.
“The financial piece is important but also all of our recipients will be paired with a mentor to help them navigate this summer and their professional career which is especially helpful in navigating predominantly white spaces,” says Antoinette.
Both women emphasized the desire to have more Latinx represented in the political and public service sector, in order to represent the “fastest-growing ethnic demographic in the United States.”
“Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams,” says Antoinette. “Had I listened to that mentor in college, I would not have applied to the White House internship and then spent 6 of the best years of my life working directly for the President.”
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