Carmen Perez has dedicated 20 years of her life to activism, standing with and for those fighting for their rights. She served as a national co-chair for the Women’s March and has worked extensively with incarcerated people of color who have been denied basic rights. Now, Perez has joined Spotify’s “Soundtrack De Mi Vida” to bring attention to the importance of Latino leadership and why it is necessary.
Carmen Perez and Spotify are teaming up to talk about Latino leadership. At first she was shocked they even asked her.
“The initial reaction was shock and then it was excitement,” Perez says. “I felt very honored, especially because it is Spotify.”
For Perez, music has always been a big part of her life, serving to connect her to her culture, soundtracking her family life and motivating her for the rallies she has organized.
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She looked to her upbringing and experience as a Chicana when coming up with artists to possibly include in her playlist.
“Selena, for me, was somebody I could relate to growing up in a community that was extremely diverse,” Perez says. “My mom being from Mexico and my dad being from California, I was literally the embodiment of a Chicana, not necessarily knowing Spanish when I was growing up but loving to sing it. I couldn’t really understand the words but I could sing alongside Pedro Infante and Ramón Ayala and all these different artists.”
Perez even works for singer and activist Harry Belafonte, who further instilled in her the importance of music and activism.
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) September 13, 2016
Perez calls Belafonte one of the most profound people she has ever met.
“I do feel like there is a role for artists in the work that we do,” she says. “They’re able to amplify the work that is happening on the ground and give it light where oftentimes people don’t really know what we’re doing when it comes to protesting or marching. I truly feel like there is a role for artists because my boss embodies that. He’s an artivist. He’s an artist and an activist.”
When it comes to the many layers of activism work, Perez has these words of advice:
Eating is also an important facet of the work.
“We need people in the movement,” Perez encourages. “We need those who have not been involved for quite some time. We need everybody. We need people to bake food for us. Some of us activists go so many hours without actually eating and it’s a great reminder when people are like, ‘Yo, have you eaten today?’”
It’s also never too late nor the wrong time to get involved. According to Perez, almost 70 percent of the people at the Women’s March had never marched before. Her response to them is simple:
As a seasoned organizer, she has had moments where she felt like she and her cause were alone in a void. Even though it can get discouraging, Perez pushes through and continues to fight for those that need people in their corner.
“I’ve been in the field of criminal justice for 20 years and it was really hard to convince people that those that were incarcerated should also be part of the solution,” Perez says. “To see our former president Barack Obama go into a prison and talk to men and actually let us see the humanity of our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated is something that I feel really proud about. I’ve been in this space for a long time.”
“I always ask people what do they love to do and whatever you love to do, bring that to the cause,” Perez says.
As she puts it, you can be taught about causes and the importance of human rights, but you can’t be taught empathy.
Perez also says people need to understand the power they have within and act on their morals.
“Don’t think that you have to go to a protest and it has to have 500,000 people. A protest could be 5 people,” she says. “I saw this post on Instagram. I posted something about number 45 [President Trump] and this girl from my hometown of Oxnard said, ‘There’s nothing happening here. I wish there were activists and protests.’ Sometimes it’s not about looking at the outside for who can actually do it for you. It’s about looking on the inside. What can you do? What can you change?”
And by using your voice, you gain power.
“The first time I felt like I really began to use my voice was when I started working with youth who were incarcerated and formerly incarcerated,” Perez says. “That’s what kind of ignited a spark and I wanted to work with people, particularly young people. I started working with youth that were incarcerated and I started organizing them, supporting them and finding their voice.”
You also need to make sure that you take care of yourself as much as you take care of other people.
Whether it is giving yourself a facial in the morning or eating some good comfort food, you have to do you. If you don’t practice self-care, how can you expect to take care of somebody else?