Soy Poderosa: Why Millennial Latinas Lead in Texas and Beyond

Written by Hemly Ordonez and cross-posted in partnership with the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health as part of the 2012 Latina Week of Action.

This profile of Hemly Ordonez is one of several of powerful Latina women advocates throughout the United States.

As a young working professional at Poderosa, as a college graduate, and as I have seen in communities across the Americas, I know first-hand intelligent and motivated Millennial Latinas achieve and overcome what some would consider insurmountable obstacles. They have not only met their challenges head-on but have come to achieve success at multiple levels. At the age of 14, I staged my first sit-in and I have been a poderosa organizer and policy nerd in local communities ever since. I did not have the words then to describe what intrinsically motivated me to confront perceived obstacles. I followed the example of my mother and father, who were youth activists in Guatemala prior to the civil war before they came to the United States as undocumented immigrants. Through them I understood the importance of garnering collective power to close the gaps in equality. I continued on my journey as an ally supporting the effort to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in my high school and founding a youth empowerment conference on higher education so my cousins could access the tools they needed. I was unapologetic about embracing all of my identities and worked tirelessly to protect my dignity and my family’s dignity.

I have seen this quality in the Millennial Latinas (and Latinos) that I have had the privilege of working with. As the State Strategies Coordinator at Advocates for Youth, I have had the honor of partnering with the Texas Freedom Network Student Chapters through our Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative. They are one of our eight state partners that support Millennial leaders and have specifically worked with Latina leaders to improve sex education policy in Texas. Through tireless advocacy in their local communities Millennial Latina youth activists like Rebecca Treviño, Deborah Paz, and April Flores are challenging the political landscape to improve sex education. These poderosas have hosted in-district lobby days, entered public comments at school board meetings, gathered petition signatures for the Education Works Bill, trained their peers, and tabled at community events. They are spokes – poderosas defending access to women’s reproductive health services and stood with Planned Parenthood in their local communities of Brownsville, El Paso, and San Marcos pushing back on Texas Governor Rick Perry. These women lead their communities to push back against the dysfunctional attitudes toward sexuality in Texas and to build space for all Latinas to thrive.

During 2012, with the support of the Texas Freedom Network these Millennial Latina college students have taken on a separate campaign to register voters all summer and will lead get out the vote efforts this fall. They are pushing back against Texas’ history of voter discrimination, which under the Voting Rights Act has required the state to seek approval from the Justice Department in order to make any changes to their voting procedure. In March of 2012, the Justice Department, issued an objection to the photo ID requirement based on their estimates that 1.4 million Texans would be disenfranchised. This is evidence that the state of Texas is attempting to sanction voter suppression against students and communities of color. The law deems concealed handgun licenses as an acceptable form of identification for voting, but not a student ID card from colleges and universities. Before this change, students voted in previous elections using state-issued student IDs. The decision for the Texas v. Holder federal case will be released this month. The implications of Texas vs. Holder could trigger a challenge to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.

Rebecca, Deborah and April are following a strong multicultural tradition of women of color who must lead in order to preserve our families, our cultures, our communities, and our own political enfranchisement. They are working to hold the state of Texas accountable and ensure that their vote counts. They are pushing back against the threat of voter suppression.

My foremothers carved a path of resistance that propels me to lead every day. These Latinas along with all the student chapter leaders from the Texas Freedom Network represent Millennial women and men leading in their communities.

The slow bigotry of low expectations has birthed a myth that Millennials do not lead and more perniciously that Millennial women do not lead. I am one Latina of a cadre of Millennial women, along with our youth activists in Texas, who are leading micro-movements and tracking policy. We are demonstrating through our actions that Millennial Latinas son Poderosas.

Hemly Ordonez is the State Strategies Coordinator at Advocates for Youth and oversees the Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative.

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  • cmarie

    Your mother and father came from Guatemala and then immigrated illegally to the U.S?  All I can say is, “Thank God they got safely through Mexico on the way”.


    Those poor souls trying to get out of Guatemala via Mexico have zero rights if apprehended.  Even under the best of circumstances illegal aliens IN Mexico can expect to spend two years in prison just for being there.       My brother’s wife is from Mexico so they were married there.  His best friend (and best man at the wedding) is decended from Guatemalan immigrants.  His grandparents came to the U.S. in the 40’s.  This young man (the best man) decided that since he was going to be in Mexico for the wedding anyway it would be a good chance to introduce his fiance to his extended family in Guatemala.  So they went to Guatemala first, met his cousins, toured for a few days then headed up to Mexico.  The Mexican border guards took one look at him and recognized him as being of Guatemalan heritage.  They didn’t want to let him in.  Never mind that he had a U.S. passport and his fiancee had a New Zealand passport, nevermind that he spoke fluent English and Spanish, Never mind that they were driving a Lexus and neither had ever had any arrests anywhere.  He had to get the police to call the bride’s father in Monterrey before they would allow him and his fiancee to enter the country.  If as you say you want to protect your dignity and your family’s dignity they you might want to focus on their treatment in that part of the Americas called Mexico.  good luck…