AUSTIN, Tx. — Inside an office in Austin, Texas, sits a space made to be anything but ordinary. It’s a place for young girls to find their voice and to honor their heritage while breaking down barriers. This place is called Latinitas.
“We were founded to increase the representation of Latinas and other girls and women of color in media and technology,” said Laura Donnelly, one of the co-founders of the organization.
She said they focus on these two different platforms, that are actually very similar.
Donnelly said media and technology are, “the most powerful tools for social change, to change attitudes, to influence the world. They're just a device for girls who are underrepresented to be able to express themselves.”
Donnelly founded Latinitas in Texas 20 years ago. The problems she wanted to fix then are still happening today.
“It was very slim and few opportunities where young girls, women could see those that were paving the way ahead of them.”
However, this generation gives her hope that will change. The nonprofit welcomes girls starting from elementary school all the way through high school and beyond.
Lilli Aguirre is just 9 years old, but she knows how to code and use design programs. To her, though, this is just fun.
“I'm just making friends and learning everything," Aguirre said.
Some girls have been in the program for years already. Ana-Victoria Crocker Villegas is 13 now, but she has been coming to Latinitas since she was 8. She’s focused more on the film and media side of the programs, but she said one of her favorite things about the organization is seeing other young girls coming into the program from a young age.
“I'm most excited about helping the younger generations find themselves and who they are, too,” said the 8th-grader.
Mia Kidd is 9 years old and only recently started at Latinitas, but she said she’s learned a lot in a short time. She enjoys doing graphic design projects using Canva, a software program.
“This helped me found something that I really wanted to do in the future, and it really inspires me,” said Kidd.
Latinitas has a magazine where young women are encouraged to write news articles or poetry. The girls are also taught to make multi-media projects like podcasts and short films.
“I really liked when we had to make a stop-motion film,” said Crocker Villegas. “It was about this immigrant who traveled to the moon with her dog. I thought the immigrants were really a good example because they’re people that can be underestimated a lot by their abilities, especially since they they're not born in the U.S.”
At Latinitas, that part of their identity is celebrated, encouraged, cultivated,” said Donnelly.
Now, these girls see their Latin heritage for what it is: a gift and a responsibility.
“My mom comes from Mexican descent, but my dad is was born in the United States. I feel like it's set me in that role to show other kids that they can be from two mixed heritages and still become something big,” said Crocker Villegas.
The parents of these young girls said they are proud to see the confidence their daughters are gaining. This confidence was hard to build without support like the girls are getting now.
“Being an entrepreneur myself, it's nice to see that my daughter’s being offered this at an early age. I never thought in a million years that I would be that because it was something that wasn't talked about. So, to know that she doesn't have to have that fear is, I think, the most rewarding part of it,” said Cassandra Ruiz, mom to Vanessa, a 10-year-old Latinita.
These parents and the Latinitas mentors see that without fear, comes space for true creativity and community.
“Seeing that people are that are sort of like me, makes me feel less alone and makes me feel more confidence to achieve my dreams,” said Aguirre.
“When I feel supported that I can do something, I feel really appreciated,” said Kidd.
“I can do it, and it's nothing stopping me,” said Ruiz of how Latinitas makes her feel.
With that pride, these Latinitas are determined to be the face of a girl-powered revolution like we’ve never seen before.
“Whether your parents were born here or not born here, you are paving your way using all the tools that come from your identity, your heritage, and sharing that with everyone, that's the true American dream,” said Donnelly.
Now, that dream and the Latinitas mission can reach more girls than ever before. The pandemic forced the organization to offer more programming online, but this is making it easier than ever for girls across the country and the world to join in. If you’d like your daughter to sign up for Latinitas, click HERE.
The Latinitas are also hosting an event called Startup Chica on November 13 to help teach girls about business and entrepreneurship. If you’d like to register for that event, click HERE or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.