Four Women, Cuatro Mujeres, Tell Us What It Means To Create Your Own System
“The system is not broken, it is designed to do what it does. So, how do you fix something that foundationally is doing what it is supposed to do?” -Ana M. Becerra, PhD, Educator & Activist
I am a former political staffer and lobbyist. I left public policy about a year ago. A daughter and sister of immigrants, I entered the system ready for the hard work, prepared to make a difference to millions of families like my own. I learned its inner workings but remained an outsider to those in the room, being told that if I paid my dues, only then could I push for radical change. Yet, when I did, I was repeatedly reminded that I was still “too young,” “too Latina,” “too close to the issue,” to be objective enough to have a meaningful stake. My seat at the table was a catch-22–my invitation as decorative as the candelabra.
Coming from a mixed-status family, I could not help but feel an initial guilt for leaving behind an opportunity of stability, the chance to break cycles of poverty, and the power of networking with powerful policy makers. However, in the near decade of working within the political system, striving to be a part of the change I wanted to see for my community, I continued to witness families being separated, children being put into cages, Black and Brown bodies being murdered by police, and the complete political disregard for the ever increasing cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women. I came to the conclusion that the system I wanted to see, based on justice, heritage and healing for my community, was misaligned with the missions of U.S. institutions. Rather, the system was doing exactly what it was designed to do. So, I left, setting out to explore alternative routes of reform.
As a Xicana woman on a mission to make sense of this inner-turmoil, I sought insight from four Latinx leaders to learn about what it means to create your own system rooted in culture and uncompromising in one’s ethics as a woman of color. The four women I spoke with: Dr. Ana M. Becerra, Founder of Hummingbird Women's Lodge, Gloria Lucas, Founder and CEO of Nalgona Positivity Pride (NPP), Angela “Angy” Abreu, Founder and Creative Director of the Dominican Writers Association (DWA), and Founder and CEO of Spanish Sin Pena (SSP), Wendy Ramirez.
The Intuitive Process Of Creating A System
Gloria: I started working for nonprofits where I spent about five years. I worked for sexual health education, the HIV/AIDs field and briefly for a family program supporting youth of color. But I was very unhappy, confined, limited and my heart was elsewhere. There were some work environments that were great, but ultimately, during that time, in my mind and in my heart I was always creating and envisioning Nalgona Positivity Pride.
Gloria Lucas of NPP was always a creative child. As a Xicana from Riverside, CA, Gloria’s community was staunchly feminist, centered around women of color who wielded fists raised high in anarchy, led grassroots programs and never compromised their autonomy. Witnessing the lack of women of color within the eating disorder awareness community, Gloria created NPP. Her organization creates opportunities for healing for Black and Indigenous communities of color that center around eating disorders, body-positivity, providing resources and awareness and reaches over 120 thousand followers. NPP now serves as a vehicle for Gloria to put her creativity, her ideals and her roots into practice and on her own terms.
Gloria: The whole reason why Nalgona started was because I needed community, and I needed healing, and I needed to hear these conversations happen in our own communities. For Nalgona, I was never, ‘I have a business plan, I have a five-year plan.’ I personally don’t work that way and never have. The whole process was very intuitive, very honest and my goal was to present myself authentically.
This organic, intuitive process, one that can’t be charted on a linear timeline, rings true for Angy Abreu of the Dominican Writers Association.
Angy: I think when people are trying to create something they get lost in the structure, or say ‘I don’t have these connections, or ‘I don’t have the money.’ But I created Dominican Writers Association with an Instagram post. As soon as I started sharing information, it caught people’s attention that there was simply a page called ‘Dominican Writers.’
Going grassroots upends the structural hierarchy. Anyone can start a Facebook page. Anyone can become the CEO–especially those the socio-economic system would love to see stay down, but Gloria and Angy show us that the path to true change lies in authenticity.
Pursuing her love for literature and writing as a Dominican-American woman, Angy enrolled in a creative writing course. She wrote her first fiction short-story centered on her Dominican heritage, using what she called her Dominicanisms and Dominican nuances. When she received nothing but red marks on her short-story from her professor, something clicked. She started a spoken word collective out of her apartment where she began meeting other Dominican writers, and from there, offered writing workshops and hosted some of the first poetry slams in her predominantly Dominican neighborhood, Washington Heights. As a result, her platform grew and the DWA was born, officially becoming a 501(c)(3) in 2019.
For Wendy Ramirez, a Salvadoreña from East Los Angeles, the journey swung from working in immigration policy under former Congressman Xavier Becerra to community centered work in her businesses: INTIMALENA that collaborates with artisans in Mexico and greater Latin America, and Spanish Sin Pena, an organization centered on supporting young Latinx professionals to reclaim and unpack the Spanish language.
Wendy: I do think that every step that we take truly leads us to the next thing. And at the end of the day, I think all of my experiences focused on my love for my culture, for the language and ties to Latin America. All of it led me to Spanish Sin Pena.
Relying on ancestral history and pride of one’s heritage, led Ana M. Becerra to begin multiple organizations, drawing from her proudly Native grandmother and her journey of being Indigenous. As one of the 200(+) activists present at the historic Occupation at Wounded Knee of 1973, Ana let her roots guide her to continue community work, becoming an independent education consultant, the founder of Decolonize Your Workspace LLC, and began the Hummingbird Women’s Lodge for women to have their own space. Within the lodge, there is a ceremony centered on the purification of the body, mind and spirit. It is completed with songs and prayers, honoring different segments of Creation and follows the Northern Native style of Lodge.
Ana: Lodge gives us that practice of what it would be like to be in a sacred space. It’s almost in line with thinking about how our ancestors did things, but in a different way, asking ourselves, ‘How were we born into the world?’ [...] The Lodge to me is very special in that it let's women, especially women that might have accumulated a lot of stuff about themselves or about others, to let it go for a moment, and just feel strong, feel loved, and feel connected.
Navigating Whiteness in BICC-Centered Systems
Angy: As Latinos, we don’t write for the white gaze. We don’t write for white people. We could care less if white people are buying our books. We write our stories because we want our children, our friends, our families who are reading these stories to truly identify with the characters.
Wendy: One of the things I think we get brainwashed into thinking is that you can only have a profitable business if you cater to white people. One of things I was confronted with when I started Spanish Sin Pena was that our Latinx community was not going to invest. Number two, I was confronted with this idea that we are moving towards English-dominant media and advertising, even among Latinos. So, in a way, I was going against the grain and against both of those ideas by having a Latinx-centered space.
The Future Of System-Creators
Gloria:Women of color entrepreneurs and creators are non-cookie cutters. Like never before, we are creating alternative, transformative, innovative industries that serve us and serve our communities.
For these four, thriving Latinx system-creators, there is every reason to be hopeful as Black and Indigenous creators of color are conceiving how to create meaningful industries. The fight for change is stronger than ever, ripe for the taking, and it begins right here on the ground.
Meet the Family
A proud daughter & baby sister of immigrants, Jackie González is a first-generation Xicana living in Southern California. She prides herself as a story-advocate & currently manages the virtual book community Traviesa Reading Club. Jackie is a recovering political staffer & former lobbyist having previously worked in the U.S. House of Representatives & representing public higher ed institutions.
Connect with her here