Laura Donnelly, COO and co-founder of Latinitas, has a simple yet impactful mission for her non-profit: to empower Latina youth. A self-described “independent thinker,” Laura recognized the severe lack of representation of Latinas in media and tech, especially in a city like Austin where the local school district’s students are majority Latino. Determined not only to disprove negative stereotypes of Latinas in media but also to provide opportunities for young Latinas to experience “you gotta see it to be it” moments, Laura Donnelly and co-founder Alicia Rascon taught themselves how to build a website for their digital magazine, Latinitas. Since their launch 15 years, ago, Latinitas has grown their reach from an audience of fellow students at The University of Texas at Austin to young Latinas all the way from Puerto Rico.
RM: What is Latinitas?
LD: Latinitas is a full-fledged multi-city nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering Latina youth using media and technology, providing digital media and technology training and esteem-boosting services to 3,000 girls and teens across Texas every year. Latinitas has served over 25,000 total girls and teens of all backgrounds by teaching them a wheelhouse of multimedia production skills and technology training – from digital photography to robotics.
RM: How did you get started with Latinitas?
LD: I co-founded Latinitas 15 years ago in a class at UT Austin with Alicia Rascon. We were tasked in a Latinos and Media class to create something that would benefit Latinos and launched the first and still only magazine made for and by young Latinas.
I came from a multi-cultural family from New York City. Alicia came from El Paso but was born in Jalisco, Mexico. We were both adamant about using media and tech to create something that reflected positive, more accurate portrayals of U.S. Latina youth and women.
RM: What most excites you about Latinitas?
The fruition of it all. Fifteen years ago, we were two UT students with no money dreaming of creating publications and programs that promoted culture, social justice, equal representation, and inclusion... That there are 22 employees working at Latinitas with health insurance coverage!
The outcomes excite me - girls are graduating high school more frequently in Latinitas (93% of alumni!) and are attending college. They are going into media, tech and other fields with confidence. Right now we have a grown up Latinita at KXAN and KEYE, and we like it that way!
RM: What's do you want AVO attendees to walk away knowing about your org?
We are one of the single technology pipelines of diversity to Austin's tech sector. We are driven to connect the city's fastest growing youth population with one of its most lucrative industries. And, that's working - 63% of the girls who came to our Code Chica conference last year had never coded before in a city teeming with tech companies and programs.
Media and technology are ideal delivery devices to teach Latina girls messages about identity, self-esteem, health and wellness, college attainment, and much more. We can address timely issues quickly via curriculum and a media or tech platform. For example, this month's curriculum focused on using technology for one's own advocacy. Latinitas attendees are majority 1st generation and many are dealing with high anxiety about their family's safety and stability... Girls learn the power of a hashtag, how it goes beyond a saying, but can be an influential call to action such as #bringourgirlshome or a community mobilizer like #blacklivesmatter.
On a bigger scale - 93% of Latinitas program alum graduate high school. 81% identify as a college student. In respect to Latinas having the highest dropout rate of all their peers, this is immense.
RM: What are your future plans for Latinitas?
There are so few Latinas in tech right now. Huge gaps in commerce and creativity exist as a result. Media creates visibility and humanizes people. It can change attitudes and promote social justice. This lack of representation or distorted representation makes it easy to scapegoat Latinos. We are not seeing their wholeness and value to American identity and economy. Our future plans are to change this landscape - dramatically. We are also looking at new frontiers - growing programs to Brownsville, McAllen, and other cities in and outside of Texas.
collective blue will be donating a portion of Austin’s Very Own: Soul Train Edition’s ticket proceeds to Latinitas Austin so come through and get down for the girls!