The stories of the more than 1 million Latinos living in Georgia are complex and too important to simply be used to check a box. Instead, their stories of vibrancy and success despite significant struggles can be used to shape Georgia’s future.
That’s a message Gigi Pedraza, executive director and founder of Latino Community Fund Georgia, is hoping to amplify as part of the organization’s nonpartisan get out the vote campaign. The nonprofit membership organization works to support Latino and immigrant communities, whose votes could play a pivotal role in November’s midterm elections.
“If narratives drive culture, and culture drives policy, this is the way we think we can create a Georgia that feels like home for all,” she said.
This vision of Latinos stepping into the spotlight to tell their stories is central to LCF-Georgia’s “Estamos Aquí” campaign that recently kicked off with a screening of its “visual centerpiece,” a video starring local rapper Victor Mariachi and directed by Samantha Ramirez-Herrera, founder of Atlanta-based creative agency OffThaRecord.
LCF-Georgia is also hosting the “Estamos Aquí” – “We are here” – festival on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 3 to 8 p.m. at Historic Fourth Ward Park Amphitheater. Mariachi will perform the song live as part of a lineup of Latino artists. Latino food and businesses will be highlighted. Voter registration booths will also be set up. And stories will be shared.
“I came to Atlanta 11 years ago with a dream as an undocumented immigrant Latina, not really knowing what my life was going to turn into,” Ramirez-Herrera said during a panel discussion following the Aug. 18 “Estamos Aquí” video screening at Resonant Studios in south Atlanta.
“And one thing I noticed was that stories are what change the world,” she said.
Mariachi, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, wrote a song titled, of course, “Estamos Aquí.” The video was filmed at numerous locations throughout Atlanta, including familiar places like Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway and Plaza Las Americas in Lilburn.
Many local Latino residents in the video – a mother reading to her young daughter, a father standing next to his disabled son, an entrepreneur pushing his paletería (ice cream) cart, an activist posing in front of the Georgia State Capitol – are wearing colorful masks like those worn by luchadores, the professional lucha libre wrestlers popular in Mexico and throughout Latin America.
The masks symbolize the fights many Latinos endure to gain access to jobs, to healthcare, to education, to citizenship, to civic participation. But they also represent the passion and joy to overcome obstacles and create a better life.
“I think about the sacrifice my parents made cleaning houses, and my family doing construction work … despite not knowing the language or understanding American society,” Mariachi said.
The people represented in the “Estamos Aquí” video are trailblazers, like his parents, he said.
“And they inspired that in me as well, because in the genre of rap there are not a lot of Mexican Americans that are well-known,” he said. “Seeing them navigate their way was my experience.”
Too often, though, the stories of Latinos and immigrants are told through a lens that focuses only on the struggles while ignoring the victories, said Michelle Zuluaga, Civic Participation Manager for LCF-Georgia.
“I think it’s important to for us as Latinos to take up and make spaces because the spaces that are being made for us are the sad stories, the trauma,” she said. “And quite frankly, that’s not the community I know. We’re an amazing community. We are vibrant.”
Added Ramirez-Herrera, “Even though our community is known for always fighting, I want us to also be known for the vibrancy and the music and the food and the culture, all of the beautiful things that also make our community.”
Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman was at the “Estamos Aquí” screening because he said he wants to make sure Latino communities are a priority to city officials.
“Historically, I think, in Atlanta, we have not been as good around Latino community issues,” he said. “We haven’t had as much sophistication around these various issues.
“An organization like LCF-Georgia that works across politics, culture, community building … is a great bridge,” he said.
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