As we close out Latinx Heritage Month, we are reminded that celebrating our culture and learning more about the cultures of others extends beyond the boundaries of a calendar and into our daily lives. We are proud to call the Latinx community part of our family and we stand in solidarity for their rights, and that means making sure their voices are heard.
Join us in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by honoring the histories, cultures, and contributions of Latinx communities. Meet the team at our organization that is bringing their cultures and experiences into the work they do with their community, from empowering Latinx patients, staff and volunteers to expanding efforts to improve sexual and reproductive health.
The following is an interview with Raiz Organizer Carol who works in the Lancaster community. Right now she is engaging voters and volunteers ahead of the election.
Where is your family from and what do you love best about your culture?
Carol: My parents’ families are from San Cristóbal in the southern region of the Dominian Republic, where they grew up just a block away from each other. Our family in D.R. were always so close, and thankfully when my parents came to the United States, that large support system followed. Having those family roots everywhere we lived was important as love and loyalty are really at the center of my family. With my mothers’ side in NY and my fathers’ here in PA, we really relied on our family to make the transitions easier.
Another huge part of our culture are the celebrations and food because Dominicans never give up an opportunity to celebrate life and to celebrate each other.
What brought you into political work?
Carol: I always really wanted to help people, especially my community. With the dichotomy of the white and Latinx communities growing up in Lancaster, I was always the token Black and Hispanic person in the group. In college, that’s when I really became politically involved and started to identify as an Afro Latina.
Aside from the National Hispanic Institute’s Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session that I attended in high school, I was most inspired to act after Trump’s visit to West Chester during the second semester of my freshman year. We organized a peaceful rally outside the auditorium where he spoke to combat the crowd’s racial slurs and hate with love and acceptance. Looking across the street, I saw my peers, teachers and other members of the community I recognized going into the building to attend the event. It was then that I realized there are a lot of people who are not on our side despite the facade they showed the world. So I started volunteering for local political races in West Chester because I wanted to organize on a larger scale. And then when I graduated and moved back to Lancaster, the many organizations that are fighting for justice in our community welcomed me and made it an easy transition to get involved.
What inspires you to work with PPPA?
Carol: I always admired and connected with Planned Parenthood’s values and their mission to provide accessible healthcare to the Black and Brown community. When I was in college and needed medical services, I went to the school’s clinic. But it was too expensive for me to pay for and would cause the school to put holds on my account that deterred me from checking out resources from the library or even scheduling for classes. It was so overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to do. The only place that was able to provide the same services at an affordable rate was Planned Parenthood and they worked with my limited budget. So I jumped at the chance to work with Planned Parenthood because it means so much to me to be able to be that voice for the marginalized community in Lancaster and provide education to people who don’t know that these services are within reach.
What challenges do you face?
Carol: What has been difficult for me is trying to get the Latinx community to take action. It’s hard to get the Latinx community politically involved because of the detachment of the Latinx community from the “Black Lives Matter” movement due to a history of colorism and simply because of the fear and uncertainty of what could happen to you as an activist. Following the murder of George Floyd, my parents were fearful as I stood on the forefront of many of the political protests in Lancaster. That scared my family because in D.R. being an activist comes with a lot of risk. My grandmother was a political leader and she was targeted often, and that happens even in the U.S. today. Organizers are targeted, politicians are targeted. It’s hard to be a leader and be well known, but that’s why I believe we need to stray from the activist persona. It’s no longer about one person and I don’t want to be the face of a movement. It’s about getting people together and creating a large enough movement that you don’t need just one leader; you have a community that is empowered to lead as a whole.
How does your culture motivate you?
Carol: What motivates me is knowing the history of my country, D.R. I’m still learning every day about the famous activists who share my culture, like the Mirabal sisters or Las Mariposas who actively organized against the oppressive dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and were later assassinated. Learning about my culture and the history of our country has gotten me more into my activist spirit and has helped to remind me that corruption happens all over the world. While the U.S. is supposed to be different, the land of the free, it’s just a dream that we need to work to make a reality for our community.
What do you wish more people knew?
Carol: The issues we face are not a matter of one race alone. The great system relies on lower income individuals to work 40+ hours each week so that wealthier people at the top can reap their benefits. When it comes to this greater movement, we will only get the system to work if we stop fighting each other at the bottom and realize that we are in this struggle together.