Puerto Rico: Students Shut Down University System

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D E M O C R A C Y  NOW

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AMY GOODMAN: Before we move on to the Middle East, Juan, you did a very interesting column in the New York Daily News about what’s happening in Puerto Rico.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, this is now, Amy, the second major strike now, student strike, at the University of Puerto Rico in a year. Last spring, the students were out for over two months, one of the longest strikes in any U.S. territory, going back, I guess, to San Francisco State in California. And they were able to beat back the attempts of the university and of the government of Puerto Rico to impose sharply higher fees and privatization efforts. However, the governor then got the legislature, which he controls, to pack the board of trustees, put new members on the board of trustees, and then started again imposing a sharply higher fee on the students this year. They went on strike again. No one expected them to do it again.

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This has gone on now since early December, and it’s sort of climaxed. There have been arrests. The police have been occupying the campus now for two months. And then, last week, while the rest of the world was watching Egypt, the faculty went on strike in support of the students, the university employees went on strike. And then, on Friday, the president of the university resigned. And the governor, who was spending the weekend over at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, because he is a conservative Republican and pro-statehooder,  came back from Washington and announced that he was pulling the police out of the campus.

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It’s still not clear how the strike will be resolved. But it is clear that here you have, as Congressman Gutiérrez said, the last remaining major colony of the United States, and the same kind of issues that young people are raising about their right to protest, their right to have a decent education, and their right to oppose what’s an increasingly authoritarian government in Puerto Rico is not being respected.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to cover it, and it has been going on for quite some time with very little attention.

 

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The Murder of Black Children Continues

GOLDIE TAYLOR, The Daily Beast

What Happened to Gynnya McMillen in Jail?
Gynnya McMillen had never been arrested before when she was taken to a Kentucky juvenile detention center. Hours later, the 16-year-old was dead, and no one will say why.
Mothers are not meant to bury their daughters.
It has been just over two weeks since the family of Gynnya McMillen gathered in the pews of Fifth Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, to pray and weep over her casket, and nearly three weeks since the 16-year-old was found dead in a county juvenile detention center on Jan. 11. Officials in north central Kentucky said Gynnya simply died in her sleep and that there was no evidence of foul play.
A state investigation is underway, but the notion that she may have been killed by the very people sworn to serve and protect her is almost too horrendous to swallow. There is nothing simple about the way Gynnya died, nor should anyone readily accept that the death of an otherwise healthy teenager is anything but foul.

Gynnya wasn’t hit by a speeding car. She did not commit suicide. There was no suddenly rupturing brain aneurysm, and she did not have a heart attack.
Clearly, lethal harm came to Gynnya, and we should be able to identify and name it. Her mother deserves to know what happened to her child. She deserves to know what became of her daughter—from the moment on Jan. 10 that the teenager stepped into the squad car that took her to a detention center until her lifeless body was wheeled into a coroner’s wagon the next day.
We should not rest until someone answers for that.
Gynnya was locked up for roughly 14 hours in the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where she was sequestered alone in a holding cell, despite departmental policy. And as she lay alone and dying, videotapes reveal that facility staffers never performed the required physical checks overnight.
By 10 a.m. on Jan. 11, Gynnya was reportedly unresponsive when a guard attempted to physically wake her up. The detention center’s staff waited a full 11 minutes—and only after a delayed call to 911—before finally attempting resuscitation. There were reportedly no signs of bruising or trauma and no known medical issues, such as a heart condition, that might have hastened her death.
Reginald Windham, a 10-year employee with the center, has been placed on paid administrative leave for failing to check on Gynnya every 15 minutes as required for juveniles held in isolation. A state Justice Cabinet Secretary asked for an expedited investigation, including a full autopsy.
Little is known about what prompted her confinement, except that an alleged “domestic dispute” at her mother’s house on Jan. 10 resulted in a misdemeanor assault charge. Gynnya had been previously removed from her mother’s custody and placed at Home For Innocents, a residential group foster care facility for abused, abandoned, or neglected children in nearby Louisville.
The officers responding to the McMillen’s Shelbyville home that Sunday called a court-designee, who had the power to make legal decisions in cases involving juveniles. A local judge honored a request for detention.
Once in custody, Gynnya was not violent but purportedly refused to take off a hooded sweatshirt during a pat-down search. According to Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, officers “took her down” using an “Aikido restraint” move.
“The youth’s repeated refusal to cooperate with staff and remove her outer garment prompted the restraint,” a Department of Juvenile Justice said, by “multiple staff… to ensure the safety of youth and staff.”
The sweatshirt was ultimately removed. Gynnya was then searched and photographed.
However, the force used in this case defies every known public policy—for non-violent juveniles like Gynnya, it is recommended simply that they be segregated from others and talked through to a resolution. According to available reports, Gynnya never assaulted or attempt to assault any of the staffers.

It was her first and last arrest. Gynna never woke up that Monday morning. She never saw the sun rise.
Save for a smattering of blog posts and a few local news stories, her name—Gynnya Hope McMillen—has escaped our national consciousness. Maybe it is because we cannot imagine ourselves in her shoes.
We cannot imagine dying over a sweatshirt. We cannot imagine what it might mean to be a black girl in Shelby County, Kentucky or in a largely white town with a population of less than 15,000. Maybe we cannot imagine ourselves neglected or abused and living in a group home. Or that someone might think so little of our lives that they would break department policy and not think to check on our welfare. Maybe it’s because we cannot imagine why somebody waited so long to call 911 or render medical aid.
Maybe it’s because we cannot imagine what it’s like to be left to die.

Contributed by Paul Seimering

LOCKING UP CHILDREN

By Nika Knight, staff writer, Common Dreams
 

 

Americans “overwhelmingly support” shuttering all of the country’s juvenile prisons and replacing them with community-based rehabilitation and prevention programs, according to a poll announced Thursday by Youth First, a new campaign to close youth prisons nationwide.

“We believe that youth prison model should be abandoned and replaced with more humane and less costly alternatives to incarceration,” Liz Ryan, president of Youth First, said during a Thursday press conference.

 

Among other proposals to reform the system, 83 percent of poll respondents agreed with Youth First’s argument that states should invest in alternatives to incarceration. A whopping 89 percent agreed with the group’s proposal to design new forms of treatment that include family members. The support held across party lines: 79 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans, and 81 percent of independents agreed with all of the group’s suggestions for reform.

Youth First argues that the current system “isn’t safe, isn’t fair, and doesn’t work” and advocates for a new model of treatment for youth convicted of crimes, including involving family in a treatment plan that emphasizes rehabilitation and prevention. The group also argues for closing incarceration facilities and using the resultant savings to fund new community-based programs.

Support for Youth First’s reform proposals was robust even among those who have been victims of crime and those who have family members who have been victims, the poll found. Crime victims do not support the “tough on crime” rhetoric and punishment-based programs that were touted by U.S. politicians in recent decades, which were responsible for the corresponding dramatic rise in juvenile incarceration rates, the group said.

Da’Quon Beaver, an advocate with youth prison reform groups Just Children and RISE for Youth in Richmond, Virginia, described his own experience as an incarcerated child during Thursday’s press conference. He was tried as an adult at age 14 and sentenced to 48 years—which meant he spent his most formative years in multiple maximum security juvenile prisons, he said.

“My experience at these prisons—they are prisons, it doesn’t matter what softer names they give them,” Beaver said, “anything you can imagine happening at adult prisons are happening at these juvenile prisons.”

Beaver described mentally ill children being placed in isolation units in lieu of treatment, legally-mandated school hours being called off for days at a time because of “lack of security staff,” and kids doing nothing for 12 hours a day but sitting in a tiny windowless room watching “a box TV with about four channels.” This is not to mention the violence, the ever-present threats of sexual assault, and the prevalent use of chemical and physical restraints by correctional officers in youth detention centers also cited by Youth First in its reform initiative.

Youth First also announced the release of an online mapping tool that allows visitors to explore the racial disparities of youth incarceration—children of color are incarcerated at far higher rates than white children charged with the same crime, the data showed. Its mapping tool also brings to light the surprising number of enormous detention centers built for children in the 19th century that are still in use today.

A bipartisan coalition of governors from three states—Connecticut, Illinois, and Virginia—have also recently committed to closing some of the old, outdated facilities in their states, the group said.

Beaver attested that the “things we’re doing aren’t just wrong because we’re doing them to kids, they’re wrong because we’re doing them to humans.”

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

traumatized.

It took ( and takes)  a pernicious and, well, sociopathic  eye to view

In many ways, they are like child soldiers

American law and policy makers would hasten to claim that the New Zealand and US systems are just different approaches to shared social goals. Ha! Ha! The approaches themselves ARE the respective goals . When New Zealand makes the mutual claims of citizenship on children who are lost, the goal is clear to everyone.

Twelve-year-old Americans are sentenced as adults for one reason: in order to insure that they will get life sentences – that is the goal.
I wonder how much of the world realizes the barbarity to which all African-American children- and other American children, but particularly Black – may be legally subjected.

At the drop of a hat.

Changing the World Through Latino Literature

PRESS RELEASE
Feb/5/2016
For Immediate Release
Contact:
Tony Diaz
AztecMuse@aol.com
(713) 867-8943Nuestra Palabra:Latino Writers Having Their Say
Nuestra Palabra Turns 18
Celebrates Changing the World Through Latino Lit

HOUSTON, TX – February 5, 2016 – When Nuestra Palabra began, we were told that Latinos did care about literature. We were told that Latinos were not interested in writing. We were told that there was not much interest in Latino Literature. We are proud to have proven the naysayers wrong for 18 years. Join us to celebrate the landmark of our 18th anniversary as we aknowledge all the milestones we have achieved as a community.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016, 6pm – 8pm, at Talento Bilingue de Houston 333. S. Jensen. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, February 23, 2016, during the NP Radio Show on 90.1 FM 6p-7p. They will be available at www.NuestraPalabra.org. $25 at the door. $20 in advance. This showcase will feature the poetry, fiction, and teatro of our award-winning authors who started their careers on our stage.

Antonio reading a book by the brook.

Here are just a few milestones.

* Largest Book Fairs in Houston: We organized the Houston Latin Book and Family Festival, which at its peak drew 30,000 folks to the GRB, making it the largest lit event in Houston for any demographic.

* When Arizona banned Mexican American Studies, Nuestra Palabra veteransunited to become the Librotraficantes to smuggle the banned books back into Arizona by using the resources and contacts of Nuestra Palabra.

* We just had our 12 members receive a Master’s Degree in Writing, with 10 MFA’s stemming from our group. Nuestra Palabra has created more Latino MFA’s than the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. As a side note, I’m the first Chicano to recieve in MFA from the UH CWP back in 1995.

* The NP Radio Show: Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say ON THE AIR began broadcasting on 90.1 FM KPFT in March of 2001.

* The Houston Public Library is archiving the Nuestra Palabra papers.

* The UH Library will be archiving our radio broadcasts.

* We are also launching the Nuestra Palabra Anthology.

 More info to come, always MAS.

www.NuestraPalabra.org

A teacher writes about Harriet Tubman

BY Paul Siemering, Cambridge, Massachusetts

 Harriet Tubman launched her spectacular career when she was only thirteen years old. A fellow slave was tied to a post and getting whipped. As was the custom in those days, the other enslaved people were forced to watch this torture. But Harriet, young as she was, could not tolerate such cruelty. She ran to the victim and quickly untied him. The overseer who had been doing the whipping was furious. He picked up the first projectile he could find and threw it at the slave. But he hit Harriet on the head. She dropped to the ground, and her mother took her back to the cabin.

Harriet was in a coma for 3 days. Her recovery was slow but she did regain her strength. However she was left with a brain trauma that caused her at any time, without warning, to fall unconscious.  This problem lasted the rest of her life. When these episodes happened, there was nothing anyone could do but wait until she came to.
A few years later, Harriet decided to make a run for freedom on the Underground Railway with two brothers. The boys became frightened and turned back, but Harriet continued on until she reached the North.
It wasn’t long, though, before Harriet returned to the South to free other enslaved people. Freedom was considered an unforgivable crime by the slave owners. Bounty hunters with blood hounds made a profitable living catching freedom fighters, so any escape attempt was fraught with great danger. Because Harriet was a superhero though, she had to keep going back to free more slaves. You may see pictures of her carrying a gun. She always told every group she took that if they wanted their freedom, she would guide them North. But once they joined her, she explained, they must remain or she would shoot them: anyone who tried to run back endangered the whole group.
 
Harriet Tubman made many trips as a conductor on the Underground Railway and never lost a passenger. After awhile She developed quite a reputation among the slave “owners”. They raised $40,000 of reward money for anyone who could catch her.
Nobody could!
Making all those trips, risking her own life over and over again – all this knowing that at any given moment of these journeys she could pass out- is more than enough to qualify as a superhero by any standards.
You can look through anybody’s history, anytime, anywhere.
But you’ll never find anyone as brave and tenacious as Harriet Tubman.
Paul Siemering taught in the Boston public schools for 30 years, then volunteered for 20 years longer. Now in his 80s and living in what may well be the last commune left in Cambridge, Paul’s posts are written for people of all ages. I met him when I was 12, going on 13, and he has been my friend ever since.
Follow him on Facebook if you want a good online friend.

Change Texas schools, change America’s schools!

You don’t have to be a Texas resident to change the curriculum of the nation’s powerhouse textbook consumer. Contribute to the Perez campaign and contribute to equity in American education.

#Perez4SBOE1  #Democrat  #TXSBOE

www.GeorginaPerezSBOE.com

ORDINARY TERROR: COMING OF AGE IN MEXICO NARCO

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____EXCLUSIVE  BY CLAIRE O’BRIEN___________________

First published on Latina Lista by Claire O’Brien at  

  At my school, the students created a gigantic number 43, each candle symbolizing a missing student, so that anybody from the sky — the UFOs, the airplanes, God, perhaps? —  could see and understand the sorrow that the Mexican students are dwelling with. Maybe now the people  will understand why it rains: even the sky is crying .”

Valerie Rodarte,  Mexican university student

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A street of small adobe houses runs through a middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of a Mexican city. It looks peaceful enough at first glance.

But those who live there know better.

To residents who have gazed at the street over time, the signs of a neighborhood transformed by seven years of horrific violence are clear. A big iron gate blocks off the entrance, and curtains are drawn across every locked window. People walk directly from their front doors to their cars or to the bus stop. They don’t go out for strolls. They stand aside for certain of their neighbors and avert their eyes.

And there are no children in sight.

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Inside one of the smallest houses, a girl who grew up playing tag on the street sits at a computer typing an email to an American journalist. Valerie Rodarte has just finished up another week of  a heavy college course load, but she won’t be joining her  classmates  for a night on the town – or a even a study group in the library.Neither will many other students at her university, especially girls.

In fact, until recently, Rodarte hadn’t been outdoors at night in six years
“Parents don’t let kids play outside anymore,” wrote Rodarte, “We were just about the last of those children,or maybe second to last. And even though I’m no longer a child, in general I try to follow my mother’s wishes as best I  can.She tends to get sick or unwell if we’re not all in a place she trusts, and that’s only home.”

Rodarte added that her mother has good reason for her fears:

“It’s dangerous,”she said.

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At 22, Rodarte tends to view life before drug cartel violence as if through a telescope, from a great distance. There were no gates blocking the street ” back then “.  Until 2008, when former President Juan Calderon’s war on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels reached Valerie’s city, her street reflected her universe of childhood, family, and school.

Rodarte’s archaic description of childhood play as “merry” strikes an American ear as melancholy, as she recalls long games of hide and seek, tag, and just kicking a soccer ball around.

“It was safe and fun to play outside in those days.We played a tag variation called Police and Thieves, where we had our “prison” and sent all the bad guys in there,” Rodarte recalled. “If that seems ironic, I’ve heard that children today play that they are drug traffickers.”

She added that the neighborhood children had also been free to walk to the nearby little shops for treats,

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Pollo-Asado

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“Almost everywhere in my street area there is a little shop or food stand run by families who need more income, as jobs are scarce nowadays in Mexico,” Rodarte said,” I remember how much we loved to buy candy, but potato chips were actually the most popular thing. They came with prizes and toys and that’s what made potato chips incredibly loved by children.”

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V A L E R I E   W R I T E S:   A B O UT   8   Y E A R S  O L D

I can’t recall my exact age but I was still a child. It was Christmas. I  received new N64 games—Hey You, Pikachu!, is a vital mention—and I felt cozy at my home, surrounded by good smells, speaking English for the first time of my life, feeling protected, as in a cave in where pleasures abound and where I can finally feel fully protected. My mother’s not in this memory scene I am describing right now, but I know she’s near—that everybody’s near. I know that my family is near, that no one’s far, that I just need to raise my voice to be heard and stop being alone.

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A G E   T W E N T Y – T W O

Violence made me see the worst part of humanity and turned me into a rather distrustful and insecure person; I no longer trust  people much, and I feel bad about a future where I can get shot if I raise my voice higher than I’m supposed to.

I still wonder if the world even cares about us. I mean, Mexico’s not a white country, and we’re not a First World country, so obviously our problems won’t be treated with media coverage like the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. And because our tragedies aren’t  good excuses for war (yet), we won’t be heard as much as we need to be. Thus, our politicians will keep mistreating us from the shadows – because of this impunity.

Most Mexicans think real life lies outside and what we produce is purely crap. People still gush and get excited when they discover that somebody else had a trip to somewhere outside Mexico or to the U.S. For me, it is sadder when Mexicans leave to any American city and forget their own culture.

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When a Nightmare Moves In 

 The city knew what to expect when it became a battleground.

People were terrified before the terror began.

For two years a wave of brutal executions had swept the nation, as Mexico’s powerful drug cartels fought both one another and the corrupt government with which many had long-term relationships.The United States had helpfully trained the bloodiest of these as Special Forces, armed them to the teeth, and returned them to Mexico, where they promptly deserted.

After re-emerging as the notorious Zetas, the cartel cut a swath of blinding terror across the country, skinning people alive, beheading them with chainsaws, and hanging their headless bodies from overpasses.

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” The violence didn’t hit us until 2008, but when it did, it hit hard and quickly.First came massacres of our police force,” reported Rodarte,”and next the doctors fled the city after narcos made public threats against them.”
With relatives escaped to America, and her father gone since childhood, Rodarte’s already small family became even smaller.They hunkered down together – Valerie, her mother and older sister – in the little house the two girls had always known.

Valerie was fifteen years old.

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Rodarte described schools that shut themselves in and “turned their walls into literal prison walls, with the spiky wires on their tops to protect children from any unwanted intruder.”

“I saw my first dead body not long after that.It was lying in the front of the gate in my schoolyard. Since then, I’ve seen so much.” she reported. “My mother no longer wanted us outside, unless it was for an important thing. And if we ever want to hang out with friends, we must be back at a certain hour. So you could say we build a routine that feels like a kind of prison”.

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The violence slammed into Rodarte’s family with the first robbery of the bank that employs her mother:

“She tends to be the target of most robbers who assault her bank.  Trust me, it’s terrible when your mother returns, all soaked in tears after surviving yet another robbery – and to know that this will repeat sometime again later. So I tend to live the worst of the city through my mother.”

Rodarte believes that her life has shown her the dark side of human nature:

“All this violence made me discover who were drug traffickers, who weren’t and who were actual people of trust. So you could say I met the dark side of people,” she relected.” I saw how low and cruel can somebody can become, and it made me realize how sometimes civilization tends to be an erroneous concept. I wasted what was supposed to be the prime of my youth because of this imprisoning routine I became used to.”

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Over the past year and a half, Valerie has slowly been adding carefully planned activities to her life – nighttime as well as daily. She doesn’t remain out after dark often, nor stay out late, and she’s intensely aware of friends’ reports of being robbed on the street.

But Valerie wants to live.

“In the end, I don’t think you can keep kids away from each other,”she writes in a tone that sounds almost, well, merry.

Rodarte also had to expand her sphere of daytime activities in order to accomodate the academic requirements of her degree program. She’s breathing bigger these days. Not big. Bigger.

The danger is no less for Valerie and her generation than it was before.

They are just standing into the wind.

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They know that most of Mexico’s people don’t live in adobe houses – however small – with running water and heat, food, clothing, and school.

They live in houses like this one.

But Valerie Rodarte hasn’t forgotten her people. She comes from a generation that can’t forget

EN CALMA TRANSCURRE MARCHA PARA PEDIR EL REGRESO DE DESAPARECIDOS EN GUERRERO

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V A L E R I E   W R I T E S

I turned on the laptop, the name Ferguson — FERGUSON, in caps — popped onto the screen. And this time I knew the world was burning, slowly and painfully. This time I saw that the world is truly flying away, burning, losing itself into the universe, prepared to crash itself into a bigger wall of nightmares. I read the news. I read the anger. I read the poison that was boiling so much for the people of the north. And even though the fabulous world of the Internet offered me a video to understand the judicial side of the Ferguson incident, I declined. I didn’t want to know the hypocritical side, for I knew the social side, which is, frankly, far more important and powerful than the former.

Only then I felt so much smaller, as I used to blame the United States for all of our problems, and then I realized that we’re all just victims from the same monster. Then I saw that we’re not small, but rather little water drops, as those hidden inside of popcorn, slowly heating ourselves in order to explode and, finally, occupy the space we deserved from the beginning and without the lies from the Big Ones.

 I realized that a new culture came, and it was the pop culture, not to be confused with the “popular culture” term, but rather with the new mindset that the world’s getting now that we’re finally meeting the real cause of our problems. A culture that has said “Enough!” and it’s ready to burst and destroy all the injustices of which we’re all victims with just one loud “Pop!” explosion…

I just now wonder how much heat we need so we can finally go “POP!”

When will the pop come…

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NOTE: None of the photos used in this article are specifically associated with Valerie Rodarte. They do not  identify her location in any way, but have been approved by her as representative of her experience. The photos all come from Google Images and are unrestricted.

When the people stole back the books

Mayan Girls Empowered

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LatinaLista — In the small town of Concepción Chiquirichapa in the highlands of Guatemala, two young Mayan girls did an extraordinary thing that gained them international attention. Bucking cultural tradition, Elba and Emelin spoke up for the girls in their community by going directly to the town’s leading politician for help. The girls convinced their local mayor to help support girls in getting an education, finishing school, not having teen pregnancies and preventing violence towards girls.

Elba and Emelin drafted a policy for the mayor. He and other government officials were so impressed that because of the girls’ hard work, a special department was created in the town to help women and girls. The new department was awarded a budget of over $200,000.

Elba and Emelin’s story was made into a 16-minute documentary (already garnering film festival awards) and aptly titled “Poder.” Directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker, Lisa Russell and Elba and Emelin playing themselves, Poder takes viewers alongside the journey of how two indigenous girls from Guatemala not only found their voice to speak up but made themselves heard and accomplished their goal.

Go to Latina Lista for video: