Saturday, March 13, 2010

E-zine connects young Latinas worldwide

What's Up El Paso Magazine
By Mia R. Cortez
Posted February 3, 2010

El Paso teens Eliana Grijalva, Sara Elizabeth Sanchez and Zyanya Dickey are aspiring journalists. They plan on pursuing degrees in journalism after graduation and are getting their feet wet now by writing for Latinitas, an e-zine founded in Austin in 2002 by Alicia Rascon and Laura Donnelly-Gonzalez.

“There’s not much stuff for journalism in El Paso and I thought it was cool that the magazine gives you a chance, so I got involved,” said Grijalva, 16, a student at the Da Vinci School for Science and the Arts. “I never had any real experience in journalistic writing, but I’ve since learned how to interview, meet people I would never get to meet before and get my name out there as a writer.”

Grijalva is part of Teen Latinitas Council, a group of about 15 girls that meets once a month to discuss articles and blog postings on On the site, writers post articles in six general sections: 411, Fun, Latina Beat, Your View, Real Life and Her Story. Subcategories include beauty, body, money, technology, entertainment, culture, geography and “Mi Barrio.”

First of its kind started as a class project by then-UT Austin students Rascon and Gonzalez.

“At the time we felt there was a lack of media that affected young Latinas,” said Rascon, co-founder and CEO of Latinitas, Inc. “We met with a youth advisory board and received feedback that girls were not feeling represented in their community. The publications ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latina’ targeted an adult audience; there wasn’t anything specifically for young Latinas. So after the class, we continued on with the project – it was the first of its kind.”

Rascon and Gonzalez also hoped to inspire and mentor young Latinas.

“I was a Chicano Studies minor, and I knew that Hispanics have the highest teen pregnancy rate and lowest high school completion rate,” Rascon said. “We wanted to give them advice as to how to overcome (statistics) and use media as a tool for empowerment.”

Volunteer hours pay off
Latinitas is a nonprofit that thrives on grants, community donations and volunteers.

“The first year, we were able to start the website and pay for our domain with a benefit concert,” Rascon said. “All the writing, editing, designing was done by volunteers.”

For six years in Austin, the site was maintained by hard-working volunteers. Rascon moved back to El Paso in 2008 and started up a Latinitas community in her hometown. Gonzalez still heads the Latinitas community in Austin.

Now the organization brings in $150,000 annually, Rascon said. About 25 percent goes to maintaining the website, and a large part of their funding goes to educational programs, but they are able to offer some staff and paid internship positions. receives about 30,000 hits a month and works with 3,500 middle and high school girls in the publication process – they write articles, take photos and edit. Their reach extends beyond Austin and El Paso to three other Texas cities, plus Las Cruces and Silver City. They were recently featured in an article in Spain and have received letters from Latinas around the world.

In November, Rascon was one of four recipients chosen nationally to receive a new Latina Rising Star award from the National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) at the organization’s annual conference.

“Our goal is to serve more girls in more areas regionally,” Rascon said. “We would like to start a print edition; we’re wanting to make our content more accessible to girls who may not be able to access our site online.”

Invaluable experience
“It’s been really exciting to be able to start pursuing what I want to do so young,” said 17-year-old Zyanya Dickey, a student at Mission Early College High School in Horizon. “I got involved because I thought it was great that they allow teenagers and young adults to join their community.”

Dickey is interested in pursuing a career in magazine or radio. She currently helps edit stories for the Latinitas site.

“Editing is fun – reading other people’s work, you see different perspectives and ideas, but it’s a teaching experience as well,” Dickey said. “And writing is one of the most important means of expression, no matter what language you speak. There’s so many possibilities, it’s really fun.”

Sara Elizabeth Sanchez, a 17-year-old student at Loretto High School says her dream is to write for Newsweek Magazine or a leading newspaper such as the Washington Post.

Last summer, she participated in a Latinitas journalism internship and has continued to write for the e-zine.

“It has definitely improved my journalistic writing style and it has inspired me to speak and write what’s on my mind,” Sanchez said.

To learn more about Latinitas and the local programs offered, visit

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