Transforming the Narrative of the Latinx Community

Transforming the Narrative of the Latinx Community

Transforming the Narrative of the Latinx Community

A conversation with organizer Mónica Ramírez, the founder of Justice for Migrant Women, on the goals of the Latinx House’s upcoming Raizado Festival.


From August 30–September 1, the Latinx House’s inaugural Raizado Festival will be a space of gathering for Latinx organizers and allies. The event, which will be held in Aspen, Colo. and livestreamed here, is set to feature talks on maternal health, wealth inequality, lack of representation in Hollywood, environmental justice, and more, along with film screenings and live music. The Latinx House cofounder Mónica Ramírez spoke with The Nation about the festival, creating rooted coalitions, and how culture and narratives shape policy.

Mara Cavallaro: This is the Raizado Festival’s first year. Can you tell us a bit about its origins and what motivated you to create this space?

Mónica Ramírez: [The Latinx House] was built with a lot of love but was also built during times of tragedy and hardship. In the building of the house, the El Paso Massacre happened. That was the introduction of our house to the world, when we organized the Querida Familia letter along with Eva Longoria, Diane Guerrero, and America Ferrera. Right after we launched, in January 2020…thousands of people from the Latinx community started to die of Covid. The farmworker community that I come from is one of them, where thousands and thousands of people died. I remember talking to Olga [Segura], and I said: If we are going to save Latinx lives, we have to do something that is so significant that it will grab people’s attention, and position our community so that people understand who we are and what kinds of change need to be made to finally address the systemic issues that have resulted in widespread death and harm. That was the seed that led to what is now Raizado Festival.

MC: Why Aspen?

MR: I had been to Aspen once before and it was a place that I did not feel welcome…and the irony is that Aspen is a place that has been built and sustained by Latinx people. We needed [the festival] to be in a place that is already considered one for leaders and thought-makers and change-makers, but also a place where we’d be in a position to reclaim space.

MC: How do you think through representation in these spaces? Because we also know that representation isn’t enough and—as Zora Neale Hurston said—that not all skin folk are kinfolk. Thinking beyond representation in spaces like Aspen, and Hollywood, of power, how are Latinx House and the festival working toward more structural change?

MR: Structural change will come by way of cultural change, and that’s a big part of what we do [at] the Latinx House. We were born with the belief that if we could change the way people see and think about us, that we would be able to change the way that people treat us. And that’s the law, that’s everyday people, that’s institutions. That was always the background—the foundation of the work that we do.

MC: What themes and topics will be centered at the festival this year?

MR: A lot of different issues. Because the Latinx House has its foundation in the entertainment industry, we will have conversations around lack of representation and misrepresentation in the industry [and] what needs to be done concretely to change that…. We’ll talk about health…. We will lift up entrepreneurs, particularly Latina entrepreneurs. We’ll have film screenings, content screenings, and live music.…

Because many Latinx lives have been lost—not only from the pandemic, but from gun violence, there will be a period of reflection and honoring too.

MC: How do you define the politics of the Latinx House and Raizado? What are your cultural goals? Political goals?

MR: We’re a nonpartisan organization, [but] it’s hard to be a Latinx person in this country and not recognize that our sheer personhood has been politicized. There are many ways people in politics attack people from our community.… When we launched the Latinx House, the first poster that we made as an organization said “nothing about us without us,” a saying that the disability rights movement coined.… We needed people to see us to then give us the opportunities to be who we are—that is the politics of the Latinx house.

MC: So what is your main objective for this festival? What do you hope will come out of it?

MR: In an ideal world, what’s going to happen through this festival is we’re going to see some cross-training happening. We’re going to have networks that are going to be built that weren’t possible before because people weren’t in proximity with one another.…

There’s [also] a false narrative in this country that we are takers. That we take jobs, resources, benefits, opportunities. The narrative needs to change to reflect who we truly are, which is that we give. We give our culture, jobs, opportunities, ideas. I hope that coming out of this festival…people understand all the ways that we give.

MC: You mentioned something similar on “The Culture is Latina,” which is going to be screened at the festival—that “the narrative has to come first. The policy will follow the narrative shift.” What stories need to be told?

MR: The story of the complex identity of who we are as people. We’re 62 million people [in the United States]! We come from very different realities and experiences and our culture is not one-size-fits all.… The experience from somebody in Miami, or New York, is very different from rural Ohio. We need those stories…

There is a very narrow definition in this country and globally around leadership–who is deemed a leader. Oftentimes, it is the people who are most visible, who are wealthiest, who are best-positioned that are considered leaders…. It’s going to be really significant and important that alongside some of the biggest corporate executives and some of the biggest folks in entertainment, we will have domestic workers [at Raizado], we will have farmworkers there, we will have other low-paid workers there and community leaders there, because they are leaders…. I would dare anyone to challenge me that a farmworker who is picking the food that literally sustains us is not a leader. We need to hear the story of that worker…

We will [also] have a Ute community leader with us and he will be telling the history of the Ute people in Aspen, [who] were forcibly removed from their land. Many died in that process. Part of our work is the remembering of whose land we’re on, and how we’re connected. How are we rooted? How are those roots intertwined with different communities and cultures?

MC: I love how you put that—of roots being intertwined, which also nods to the name of the festival. What’s the key to building strong intersectional coalitions?

MR: I think that gathering—being in community—is key. To have strong roots we need to know who we are as individuals, but we have to know who we are as a collective too. We can only know who we are as a collective if we have the opportunity to come together.… Raizado [“rooted”], for us, is the understanding that it’s not enough to just plant seeds, you have to tend them, you have to put the time in to care for [them] and water [them], and feed [them]—and the coming together is the watering, the feeding, and the tending.

MC: You’ve been planting and tending these seeds of collaboration for a while. In addition to being cofounder of the Latinx House, you’re also the founder of Justice for Migrant Women and a cofounder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and the platform Poderistas. How does your work in these various organizations overlap and what vision do they share?

MR: It’s about recognizing the humanity of people. The opportunity to have fair wages and to be treated fairly at work and to be able to vote in elections and not be disenfranchised… That’s all about valuing people.

MC: What are you most looking forward to next week? What speakers or discussions are you most interested in hearing?

MR: There are so many inspiring people that are going to be with us…. [One of them], Nalleli Cobo, is 21 years old and won the Goldman award, which essentially the Nobel Peace Prize for the environmental movement. She started as an organizer when she was 9 years old…. It’s really important that people understand that there’s no right age to start making change, just like there’s no age limit on making change.

Discussions will be recorded and posted on the Latinx House’s YouTube page. You can watch the livestream here.

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