This week's #WCW is a badass Latina who's been literally mobilizing support for undocumented people in the United States. Paola Ramos has been traveling from city to city to help raise awareness on immigration reform and reaching out to immigrant communities.
Ramos talks about her start with political advocacy, creative ways to open up discussion for Latino and immigrant communities, and how these issues affect us all.
The Miami-born activist has experience working as Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for Hillary Clinton’s 2017 President Campaign, but a big turning point in her life was actually after the election when she had to ask herself tough questions about the future of Latinos in the United States. In a time where a lot of Latinos might have felt defeated, Paola has been organizing to help us realize the power that we have when we come together. Ahead, read more about how activism can take many forms and the role that art and culture can have in creating movements.
Could you explain to our readers a little bit about your work and background?
My mom is Cuban, my dad is Mexican, and I think their journeys - coming to this country and leaving these governments that didn’t give them the voice that they had - has always inspired me to want to be involved. Early on I knew I wanted to work for people and candidates that believed in these basic principles.
After I graduated from college and once former President Barack Obama was elected I moved to D.C. and that’s sort of where my political career started. While in D.C. I worked for the Obama administration and for Vice President Biden in the 2012 re-election campaign. Afterwards, I went to grad school and when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy I decided to move to New York and work in her campaign.
I’ve always been in the political sphere but after the election it made me rethink a lot of things. Mainly, ‘What are different ways to make a change?’ For me, the biggest question was what do we do with more than 30 million Latino millennials that are in the country. How can we pull every single person to the conversation? How do we make these issues about all of us? What are different ways and what are different creative ways that we can do that? That has been sort of my mentality after the election and what I’ve been doing.
A lot of your work revolves centering Latinos as more than just numbers. What would you say is the biggest misconception about immigration reform/undocumented immigrants?
There are the obvious stereotypes that we hear a lot. We are criminals. Mexicans are rapists. DREAMers are taking your jobs away. Immigrants don’t contribute to the economy. All these stereotypes are out there but the reality is with immigration and the DREAM Act the majority of the public support the DREAM Act. That’s a fact.
The misconception that I see is that unless you are a DREAMer or an immigration fighter in D.C. people think they can’t make a difference. I have friends in Miami who are Cuban-American and they don’t feel the impact or relation with what’s happening in D.C. but that’s not true. Unless we as Latinos form strong communities of rich, poor, documented, undocumented, women, men, LGBTQ, and we as a community understand all of this affects all of us then it’s going to be really hard. That’s the stereotype that I’m trying to get my friends and in general other privileged Latinos to understand. We can’t live in silence anymore. The more faces that show up in rallies, the more phone calls that constituents make, the bigger impact we’re going to make.
What strategies would you say is most needed on the ground to uplift our Latinx community and get more involved?
I was part of this movement called the Inside Out Dreamers Movement, where we propose that same exact question. How do we get more people, more Latinos, more of us involved for DREAMers, and get them invested in the immigration conversation? In this project, we collaborated with artists on this cross-country trip with a photobooth truck. We used art and pop up artist relations as a means to mobilize support for DREAMers. We used art, pictures, photos to show people the faces not only of DREAMers but to make the statement that DREAMers are living in your neighborhood, they are your friends, your teachers, they are part of your community. We went to over 20 cities across the country using this strategy. So the first thing I would say is to think outside the box. As young Latinos, we often depend on our phones and we have these tools that we can use to wake people up and open their eyes.
Another thing that I’m doing now is with Telemundo. Every week I collaborate and go on TV and use this important segment of Latino audience to get them to care about things that are happening with our lives. We are the biggest translators for them to let them know what is important and how we can empower them. So once a week I use these segments to talk to them directly and use different angles of all of these issues in a way that relates to them so that they don’t only think that we only talk to them when it comes to immigration. All these issues that are happening every day impact them and they need to know that they can do something about it.
How has the response been in using art as a nontraditional form of organization and activism?
It’s a way to really unite people. Words and politics can turn people off but art is something where a lot of people can find common ground, especially when you’re looking at reflections of pictures or when you’re looking at a reflection of yourself. The art project that we did was based off on taking photos of people from communities, so it served as a smart way to get more people involved. People walk in curious to see what it is about and then they leave more educated and with a different mindset. Strategically, it’s an easy way to grab people’s attention and then the question is what do you want them to walk away with. I work with a lot of people that are constantly asking how can we grab everyone's attention and activate all 30 million Latinos to not only think about DREAMers but now to stand up for other things. For example with what we’re seeing on TV, people are standing up for gun violence. Look at Emma Gonzalez she’s the perfect example.
You were recently in a panel in the 2018 LEAD Conference promoted by Harvard Latinas can you tell us more about that?
Yes, it was great! That’s the perfect example of young Latinas organizing. At the conference in Harvard some of the girls, some with papers, some of them DREAMers, some of them undocumented, they’ve been organizing this Latina empowerment conference. This year I had the privilege to attend along with my colleagues. They come together, whether it’s the east coast or west coast, and they come once a year to talk about different ways to use power. It was incredible to see the amount of energy in that room. These are people who are going to be running for office. I heard young girls who are planning to run and want to make changes or want to become activists. Everyone in the room I know will do incredible things. It’s an inspiring moment and reminder for all of us to come together, talk, and push ourselves. That was the biggest takeaway that I got from there.
How do you see your work as helping to crush the patriarchy?
I think we're going to see it in the primaries and in the 2020 elections. My hope is that even if I'm changing one person's mind, whether it's a mom or a young Latina, I hope that all of these little moments that try to create will be reflected when people go to the polls. I think we're living in a moment when people aren't forgetting anymore and the best way to prevent that people forget is by creating images, strong messages, visuals that young Latinos can look at and remember when they go to the polls. For them to think, 'this person did it well I want to run for office or I've never been affected by this but I'm going to go to the streets and rally with my friends. I'm doing a small part in this huge movement but my hope that I change people's minds through messages and moments and that in turn, we'll see the result in the elections. There isn't a greater power than in our power to vote. I think we're going to be sending a really strong message.