El Paso, TX – In 2002, as students in a "Latinos in the Media" course at the University of Texas-Austin, Alicia Rascon and Laura Donnelly Gonzalez were assigned a service learning assignment to help the Latino community.
These young journalists decided to start an online community that would empower young Latinas through writing and digital media.
“We weren’t showing girls that, you know, there are success stories out there. We weren’t showing girls the people that were overcoming those obstacles,” said Rascon.
Therefore, the group Latinitas, Inc. was born.
Rascon told Fox News Latino the goal was to empower Latinas, telling stories through technology.
“Being a young Latina I would read all the teen magazines and I never saw anyone on the magazine covers that would reflect my community,” said Rascon.
Rascon said that Latinas have the highest rates in teen pregnancy and attempted suicide. They wanted to change the media’s misperceptions of Latinas and educate the public about their successes.
“We’re either [not] seeing them at all, or Latinas are being portrayed – they are overly sexualized or they are that hysterical feisty woman,” Donnelly Gonzalez said.
“That voice is not heard,” she added.
But Latinitas gives middle and high school women that opportunity.
“A lot of times when they contact us it’s like, ‘Wow, I found you! I love photography, I love doing video, I write poetry on my free time and I haven’t really had a place where I can put it.’”
Latinitas offers after school workshops and media enrichment programs. They publish the bilingual digital magazine LatinitasMagazine.com monthly, in addition to a special annual print edition. The young Latinas take the photographs, write articles, and assist with the graphic design. Over 3,000 Latinas are active participants – plus several others that contribute to the publication nationwide.
They also host an online community, mylatinitas.com, where young Latinas can post videos, poetry, and blog posts.
The non-profit organization, which is run by a small staff and generous community of volunteers, has offices in Austin and El Paso, Texas.
Marlett Mojica, 16, said she hasn’t celebrated her Latino background much in the past, so being apart of Latinitas has helped her discover it – and it’s providing a community where she can express herself.
“I feel like it’s my second family because at home I’m always by myself. But here, I am always happy, laughing, I’m making new friends,” she said.
The environment also steers the vulnerable teens away from sex, drugs, and alcohol.
“It helps me think that I won’t be like the other kids that are statistics,” said Brianna Holcome, 13.
Rascon said former Latinitas Magazine teen writers have kept in touch after high school and are now leading television and radio productions on their college campuses. Some have become reporters at local newspapers.
Rascon and Donnelly Gonzalez say they lead this organization so that young Latinas don’t give up their creative aspirations.
“The U.S. always symbolized the dream -- the American dream and it’s very disturbing for me when I see young girls that have given up on that dream,” said Rascon.
Rascon and Donnelly said LatinitasMagazine.com is the first digital magazine targeted to young Latina women.
Patrick Manning is a Junior Reporter with Fox News.