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Meet Trailblazer Cristina Garcia

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cristina Garcia.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Cristina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My story began in the southwest side of Chicago in a Mexican immigrant enclave known as Little Village. I am a daughter of Mexican immigrants and a granddaughter of Bracero workers, one of the largest foreign workers programs in US history. Chicago is second to Los Angeles in terms of its Mexican immigrant population. It is considered one of the main gateways of immigration into the US. My maternal grandparents alternated between Chicago and Mexico bringing my Mother here at the age of about 16 years old. My parents met back in the 1970s and later married and had their children. I have a sister and a brother and I am the oldest.

I went through Chicago’s public education system and I was the first in my family to go on to college, earning an undergraduate degree in business administration and later a graduate degree in social policy. I’ve spent most of my career in the non-profit sector working on educational campaigns, program development, and policy advocacy. My work has been largely focused at the intersection of immigrant justice and women’s rights working on issues of violence against women and advocating for access and inclusion of immigrants and their families. Until recently, I was working for an international NGO, leading Speaking Tours across the country, working on national campaigns and helping bring awareness to the root causes of migration and why people flee their countries of origin, particularly with respect to countries in Central America. I also delved into intersectional work bringing together stakeholders and leaders from various disciplines to explore how we create good jobs here in the US while remaining good neighbors to our friends to the south, Mexico and Central America.

In early 2017, my husband and I moved to San Diego, a dream come true for me! Although we miss our families, we do not miss the snow and the subzero temperatures of negative 30 degrees. (Brrrr!) Now, we think that 50 degrees is cold! 🤷 Most recently, we moved again, this time to Long Beach and that is where we are today.

I founded She Grows, We Grow as a way to kick off an initiative focused on women of color in which I could discuss and engage other women around issues surrounding identity, voice, and power. I have always been intrigued by how systemic inequalities affect WoC the most and how that, in turn, impacts our self-development, the ability to use our voice and fully assert our power. Starting from the wage gap that impacts Latinx and African American women disproportionately in comparison to white women, all the way to the way Black and Brown women’s bodies are overly sexualized, and everything in between, I am passionate about finding ways in which all WoC can use our voice and power towards self-actualization and much needed social change.

I am most proud of the recent TEDx Talk I just gave titled “I am a Daughter of Immigrants” and the event held in Long Beach, CA titled “Exploring our True Self” where we received a lot of positive feedback.

Has it been a smooth road?
Through my work in advocacy, I have learned to be analytical and persuasive; thoughtful and resourceful; and I have learned to use my voice, but I was not always this way. It’s taken a lot for me to use my voice, to feel empowered and safe to be outspoken. There was a time when I felt unseen and voiceless. I remember being shy and not wanting to engage much due to not speaking “proper English” as a child. In retrospect, no one really spoke to me about using my voice, it is not something that they teach us. I’d even say that many young women of color grow up feeling a sense of shame for who we are, whether it is our “hard to pronounce” names, our mixed background, or in some cases, even the texture of our hair or the color of our skin. All of this is due to some form of othering or not being fully seen and accepted. There is a sense of not being able to “fit in” with the dominant culture, at times, forcing some to assimilate which inevitably causes other repercussions along the way.

I would say it is important that women, especially young women, seek out their culture and their roots as a way to reflect and find a sense of grounding. Reconnecting with our heritage and culture, whether it be through art, food, music or learning more about important figures in our history, helps us find a sense of identity and belonging which I believe is what we are all seeking at the end of the day. This also brings a sense of healing and self-acceptance which strengthens us and our belief in ourselves. Culture and history are normally not taught in public schools unless you take it up in college. If we can see our stories and ourselves reflected in others (via books, poetry, music, etc.), we can begin to appreciate ourselves better, to get to know ourselves better and to truly love ourselves. I believe that being grounded in our identity is the catalyst to finding our voice and harnessing our power.

Other advice I would share is to stay on your course and don’t allow others to dictate what or how you should carry out your goals. If you want something goes for it and don’t get hung up on the “what are they going to think” of my game. People will always have an opinion of you but it’s important to remember that the most important opinion is your own. This comes with time but it’s a lesson that we can’t learn soon enough.

We’d love to hear more about She Grows, We Grow.
For many years, I dreamed of starting an initiative that focused on girls and women, highlighting and discussing unique needs and challenges of girls and women of color that are very often missing from the world of personal development. Sometimes, I felt I needed this growing up and even now at times. Important issues like exploring our true identity, who we are at our core, and tapping into our inner resilience as a way to affirm ourselves. I like to help women identify and break away from systems that do not serve us and learn about how systems of oppression manifest in our everyday lives stifling our voice and power. Ultimately, how we can be better represent ourselves by defining and shaping our own narratives. She Grows, We Grow was conceived out of a desire for women of color to be fully seen, to define and affirm our own identity on our own terms, and revolutionize the way we use our individual and collective power.

The truth is that our stories often go untold or are misrepresented altogether. My goal is to help change that by encouraging women of color to lead with their inner resilience and equip them with the tools to help them explore this. Many of us come from lineages and legacies of strong women. It is important that we reconnect with our roots and our true self as a way to honor all of who we. She Grows We Grow is a platform consisting of events, workshops, and public speaking engagements that help us grow individually and collectively.

I am most proud of the recent TEDx Talk I just gave and the event held in Long Beach, CA titled “Exploring our True Self” where we received a lot of positive feedback. I also recently launched “Our Talks: Defining & Uplifting our Own Narratives,” a WoC-focused Talk Series that serves to shape, amplify, and affirm our individual and collective voices. I have interviewed quite a few amazing women so far, and hoping to interview more! I am also very proud that I have been able to cultivate a strong sense of community in the LA/San Diego areas in spite of this platform only being about seven months old and my being relatively new to California.

I think what sets me apart from others is definitely the ability to combine my understanding of the person in environment frameworks with an intuitive sense of self and my underlying passion for social justice. I thrive on helping others see their own passions and self-actualize into the beautiful and bold women they truly are!

Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
I remember hanging out in the neighborhood during the long summer nights and spending time with friends on the stoop of one of our bungalow homes. We laughed and cried, dreamed and told stories. We were so carefree, unaware of the world outside of our community. I remember wanting to be more independent, but my parents would have none of this. I would use any excuse to go to the corner store or to get ice cream just to step away from my mother’s gaze. I guess this reflected the wings, I yearned for since the early age of 13.

I grew up deeply grounded in my culture with a lot of travel to and from Mexico in the summers. I spent a lot of time with extended family and cousins and remember lots of storytelling over roasted corn. There was never a dull moment, it seemed like our grandparents home was always full of people, full of life. These are the experiences that shaped my early formative years which I believe truly marked the course of the person I am today. I grew up in Chicago’s public school system where one can say the odds were against me due to the limited resources we had. However, what was lacking in terms of financial resources was made up in the form of a rich social network of friends and family and a deep sense of identity.

Growing up, my father made sure my siblings and I knew our history. He talked about worker rights and the need for fair wages, about the Chicano movement and Cesar Chavez, and about the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King. My mother worked part-time but for the most part, stayed home to care for us. We didn’t have much in the way of financial means but she always had a home cooked meal waiting for us when we came home from school. She would teach us about family values and instill in us the importance of self worth and education. My Mother literally took me on public transportation to fill out my college application! If it wasn’t for her, who knows if I would have gone to college. Now I understand the value of their sacrifices and how important it was for us to learn all of this at such an early age.  My mother worked part-time but for the most part, stayed home to care for us. We didn’t have much in the way of financial means but she always had a home cooked meal waiting for us when we came home from school. She would teach us about family values and instill in us the importance of self worth and education. My Mother literally took me on public transportation to fill out my college application! If it wasn’t for her, who knows if I would have gone to college. Now I understand the value of my parents sacrifices and how important it was for us to learn all of this at such an early age.

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Image Credit:
Rachel Carrillo of LA Momma Photography

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