Program for Latina Girls Mentors Future Texas Leaders

Some of the girls from the Hispanas Unidas program

Images by Hispanas Unidas on Facebook

October 09, 2013

AAUW is proud, particularly during Hispanic Heritage Month, to stand with many organizations and programs that support Latina women and girls. Hispanas Unidas is a nonprofit organization and 2008–10 Community Action Grant recipient doing just that. Last week I spoke with Program Director Sarah Salinas about the great successes of the organization, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on October 3.

In 1983, Hispanas Unidas, which translates to United Hispanic Women, was started through the vision of Maria Antonietta Berriozábal, the first Latina ever to be elected to the San Antonio City Council. Berriozábal and other key contributors realized that there needed to be a space for Latina women in San Antonio to come together and discuss their needs and opportunities for future growth. Forums began wherever space was available, be it in living rooms or public spaces, and conversations arose about life for Latina women in San Antonio. More than 117 women participated in these initial conversations. If it’s starting to sound like the consciousness-raising groups of the first-wave feminist movement and the 1970s feminist art movement, it’s no coincidence. Consciousness-raising groups have historically used interpersonal dialogue as a tool for mobilization.

Conferences were formed to address important topics facing Latina women, such as their needs and realities and the role of power dynamics in both professional and personal life. Issues surrounding the glass ceiling, single working mothers, and equal opportunities in the workplace were addressed. After the initial conferences, Hispanas Unidas identified three main problems that held the greatest impact on the San Antonio community: teen pregnancy, low educational achievement, and the cycle of poverty. The Escuelitas program was formed to target these problems at the root, and it was this initiative that received grant funding from AAUW.

A Hispanas Unidas teacher sits with a group of children in a circle on the floor.

A Hispanas Unidas teacher works with a group.

Escuelitas is a mentoring program designed for girls between the ages of 8 and 14. It brings in women from the community to share stories that address identity, sense of self, and culture. “It’s especially important for Latinas to see people like us, other Latinas that have been successful,” says Salinas. In essence, the Escuelitas program draws heavily on community, allowing girls to recognize the value they hold as members of their community, while at the same time providing strong role models for them to look up to. Salinas shared student Jennifer Zuniga’s success story with me:

Jennifer Zuniga was 12  when she started in the program; she’s now getting ready to apply to college. She’s going to be applying to Our Lady of the Lake because she has the scholarship. If a girl is in the Escuelitas program and completes two years, remains active with the program and her community, and maintains a 2.75 GPA in high school, we offer her a $40,000 scholarship to attend Our Lady of the Lake.

When she first came to Hispanas, Jennifer was so shy she wouldn’t even speak. She had a hard time talking to others, had a hard time even making eye contact. … Now she is 17, she’s outgoing, she knows that she’s going to go to college, whereas before, when she was 12 and 13, college was an idea but beyond that, she didn’t really know what it was or how to get there. And now she’s applying to schools. I spoke with her aunt and her aunt told me, “This has completely changed her life.” It’s changed her self-esteem, her confidence, her performance in school; it’s keeping her on the right path; and now she’s going to school, and going to go to college. It’s no longer a matter of if she’s going to go; it’s a matter of where she’s going to go.

The support from AAUW allows Hispanas Unidas to continue to serve the community free of charge, helping girls like Zuniga realize their potential at no cost to them. So far, the program has served between 1,300 and 1,500 girls.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an important time to celebrate Hispanic culture and bring to the forefront programs like Hispanas Unidas that have been hugely successful in creating opportunity for Latina women and girls. As Salinas put it, “When you’re working towards your goals, as a young Hispanic woman, it starts with having a belief in yourself—understanding that what you offer to your community and what you offer to your profession, to your family, and to your school is 100 percent authentic and unique and valued.” Join us in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and the 30th anniversary of Hispanas Unidas!

Hispanas Unidas’ 2008–09 Community Action Grant was sponsored by seven Texas Research and Projects Grants: the Lottie Ray Caldwell/Tyler (TX) Branch endowment, the Corpus Christi (TX) Branch endowment, the Gladys B. Howard/Tyler (TX) Branch endowment, the Diane Jacoby/Hurst (TX) Branch endowment, the Kathryn M. Jefferson endowment, the Polly Orcutt endowment, and the Jeannette Pool endowment.

This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily Carroll.

By:   |   October 09, 2013

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