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Conversations with the Inspiring Allegra Padilla

Today we’d like to introduce you to Allegra Padilla.

Allegra, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I currently serve as Coordinator of Community Programs here at Occidental College for three different initiatives Center for Community Based Learning, the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles and Oxy Arts. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to work in higher education and almost all of my experience has been with a range of non-profits and grassroots groups across Los Angeles centered around human services and the arts.

As an LA baby born and raised, it is a tremendous privilege to support in connecting Occidental College to the surrounding Northeast LA community and beyond. Born to mother who worked for the City of Los Angeles for many years it seems to be in my blood to serve the public good. Much of my education came from my time at Pasadena City College, UC Santa Cruz and all of the incredible community-based work around LA. This position was of particular interest to me because it allowed me to leverage all of my varied experience as a cultural worker and organizer to start building the foundation of community engagement for the Oxy Arts on York space. In addition, being a Chicana in this city, I understand that I carry privilege and an acknowledgment of ancestral histories. It has been a tremendous journey so far in working with a dynamic team of directors, students, locals, creatives and faculty who share similar values, visions and ideals about what this space will mean to off and on-campus community partners.

My path here has not been linear yet it is truly a reflection of the many ways in which one can manifest possibilities and think outside the box about the types of jobs that are available in this world. Whatever position I have held during my career I make sure it aligns with my life’s path as a connector and builder of communities. It is truly a blessing to be part of work that continues to uplift the voices of many who are underrepresented and challenging cultural hierarchies that exist today.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road has been varied, intense and challenging in many ways. I think that anyone who seeks to do work rooted in a community has to be open to navigating conflict in a healthy way and understanding that so much is rooted in a deep love and passion for a craft or perspective. I think especially for young women of color it is key to know your worth and to advocate for yourself. When you uplift yourself, you bring so many along with you and especially in Latinx/Chicanx culture it is so much about being there for your family and loved ones we can lose ourselves in that equation.

Whatever struggles I have faced, it has been the support of loved ones, ancestors, mentors and the embrace of a community that has gotten me through. Investing in relationships has benefited me so much and I see much of my activism as part of my contribution to making the world a better place, even if I don’t see changes I seek in this lifetime. We are in it for the long haul and taking care of oneself is of benefit to many.

Personally, I have made financial sacrifices at times to commit to work that aligns with my values but I think we are at a point in time where one’s values and financial security are possible at the same time. Working at Occidental College has shown me the boundaries that are being pushed by this generation of youth who are demonstrating incredible resilience while facing some tough issues politically and culturally.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Occidental College- Center for Community Based Learning, Institute for the Study of Los Angeles, Oxy Arts story. Tell us more about the business.
I guess I consider myself a strategic community builder at this point in my career, sort of a bridge between worlds. I have been known for developing pathways of access to the arts and other types of human services in various communities across LA that are often lower income and majority people of color. I am proud of all of the youth who I have met along the way that are pursuing their dreams, the people and families I have worked with who speak up against injustice and work hard to ensure a decent living for themselves and others and the innovative cultural workers who find ways to use creativity and art-making to help us all dream up and make a better world a reality.

Perhaps, what sets me apart from others is an integration of community organizing practices in the arts and being intentional about making sure certain people are invited to participate in decision-making processes that impact us all. I dream big and want to help others do so because the world has so much to offer and it is time to really address and undo the root causes of suffering.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
In general, some of the barriers I see are around women’s worth and a work culture that doesn’t allow for a full expression of humanity. If a woman is an applicant for a position, she is often seen as a ‘riskier investment’ if she has children. As many know women are paid less than men in almost all professions. As a woman of color in the arts, it is especially challenging in terms of financial and job security and given my age and experience I am a bit behind in terms of professional development than people in other fields. Nonetheless, I think we are at a pivotal time where female leadership is also being cultivated in non-traditional ways due to the past work of other women who are looking out for us.

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Allegra Padilla

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