February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Latinitas and DIY Girls: Paving the Way for Latina Makers

DIY girlsThe rise of maker culture and new media focused initiatives has not gone unnoticed in the Latino community. Two nonprofit organizations, Latinitas and DIY Girls, are working with Latina teens and tweens to promote tech- and media-related skills.

Luz Rivas, founder of DIY (“Do-It-Yourself”) Girls, was inspired to start an organization aiming “to increase girls’ interest and success in technology, engineering, and making through innovative educational experiences and mentor relationships,” she says, when she revisited her elementary school in Los Angeles and noticed the lack of technology programs for girls.

“I became interested in technology when I was in elementary school,” she says. “It was hard to see that 30 years later, nothing has progressed. I thought, why don’t I combine aspects of the growing maker movement, activities, and equipment that is accessible to everybody and create a program for girls?”

DIY Girls develops and implements educational programs and events designed to encourage engagement with technology, promote self-confidence, and support aspiration to technical careers among tween girls in L.A.’s northeast San Fernando Valley, where the majority of students are Latino. Now in its fourth year, DIY Girls offers afterschool programs to fifth grade girls in five area schools, bringing equipment and materials for projects, such as coding and creating video games and a controller, and using the 3-D printer.

It has also branched out to middle school students, offering monthly programs and summer camps that have taken place at the Los Angeles Public Library. “Our goal is to keep connected with the girls as they grow older, offering a mentorship that we hope continues until they graduate high school,” Rivas adds.

Since its inception, DIY Girls has worked with 400 girls. Its staff is made up of Latina women with degrees in engineering, toy design, psychology, and an aspiring maker/STEM librarian, in addition to volunteers and mentors. The organization is currently is fund-raising for a two-week maker-themed summer camp on Indiegogo with the goal of reaching $8,000 within the next 15 days.

Photos courtesy of Latinitas.

Photos courtesy of Latinitas.

Latinitas is another nonprofit organization that is focused on inspiring young Latinas to develop technology skills, with an added emphasis on media. Latinitas was founded by Laura Donnelly and Alicia Rascon in 2002. Originally conceived as a class project at the University of Texas Austin, where they first met as graduate students, as a way to address the misrepresentation and lack of positive portrayals of Latinas in media and technology, it began as a digital magazine made for and by young Latinas.

“Young women are always struggling with issues of identity and self-esteem, but most Latina girls don’t often find themselves in magazines. And so we started Latinitas, says Donnelly. “It became a space where teens could receive lessons in writing, photography, and then digital publishing as media evolved. Since Austin is tech-centered, coding was the next natural step.”

Latinitas has expanded to include a nonprofit that hosts programs, clubs, workshops, and summer camps in Austin and El Paso, TX. With an audience of 12–17-year-old girls, Latinitas aims to provide a creative outlet for expression, help participants learn about their culture, and foster career exploration in STEM fields.

The organization has served over 20,000 elementary, middle, and high school Latinas with afterschool enrichment programs focused on media, technology, and cultural literacy. As the participants grow older, they serve as models for their younger counterparts in the program. Ninety-two percent of Latinitas alumni reported that they had graduated from high school within four years. Latinitas has four full-time staff members and 20 volunteers.

The group has partnered with 12 libraries in Austin and El Paso to host events that are open to entire families, not just girls. A recent library workshop, Code Chica, which focused on video game design, took place at the Southeast Austin branch. Families came from as far as an hour away to attend. The projects and ideas are usually generated by the participants themselves, and they often tie it back to their culture. One girl created Piñata zombie video game. Another tied her game to the Llorona legend,” says Donnelly.

The family connection is a big part of what makes DIY Girls have a long-lasting impact on attendees, Rivas believes. “When they do things with electronics at our programs, they get to take [their creations] home and share [them] with their families. It creates a special bond with their dads, who [often] have always been tinkerers. The fathers are surprised that their daughters could make projects like that.”

classroom10 - Latinitas

Paola Ferate-Soto, a librarian at the Austin Public Library who has hosted several Latinitas programs at her branch, has a daughter who attended the summer workshops held by the group. “It’s a great opportunity to offer tech-related programs to girls. We have wonderful male librarians and they attract a lot of boys for computer-focused programs. But we noticed that there weren’t that many girls wanting to use the computers,” says Ferate-Soto. She has since seen less resistance to tech programs from young female patrons. “It’s a great away to expose them to tech in a non-threatening and exciting, accessible way,” she says.

DIY Girls and Latinitas have each received financial and in-kind sponsorships from companies and organizations as varied as Microsoft, the L.A. Lakers, the United Latino Fund, Evil Mad Scientist, Target, and IKEA.

They both aim to inspire at-risk young Latinas to pursue STEM-related fields—and to impart confidence and creativity in their mentees. “We are allowing them to create; we’re not giving them step-by-step instructions,” says Rivas. “We provide opportunities for them to learn by troubleshooting a project. Our goal is for them to be excited and enthusiastic about creating technology, rather than just using technology.”


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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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