Part of an ongoing series profiling women in Toronto politics, community-building, activism, and other aspects of municipal or political life.
By: Talia Bronstein
MUJER is an organization working to engage Latin American women and gender non-conforming people in the issues that affect them in Toronto, including gender-based violence, issues of racism and sexism in formal education, gender inclusion, and more. We spoke with Laura Salamanca, MUJER treasurer, counsellor, and sexual health advocate extraordinaire, about lessons she has learned from being involved in this grassroots community building organization.
Q: How did you get involved with MUJER?
A: I was at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and I saw a poster advertising a Latina Feminism course, which was organized by MUJER. I had taken Women’s Studies courses in university, but we hadn’t focused specifically on Latin America and I saw this as a major gap. The objective of the course was for women-identified people to have a better understanding of feminisms in the context of Latina identity. The course inspired me to join MUJER and later that year, there was an opening on the Board so I joined as Treasurer. This year, the open-access, free course is called Decolonizing Lantinx Feminisms – look out for our call for applications in the spring!
Q: What is MUJER’s goal, and what projects are you working on?
A: MUJER uses an anti-oppressive, anti-racist, feminist, decolonizing perspective to bring the Latina community in Toronto together to foster engagement on municipal issues that affect the community. We also stand in solidarity with other groups and communities, such as Indigenous communities, to advocate for justice. Through consciousness raising and educational opportunities, we create tools and spaces for Latinas in Toronto to expand our voices and be heard in municipal politics.
Aside from the course, we have also run advocacy campaigns, such as our “Draw the Line / Hasta Aqui No Mas” campaign of 2013, which resulted in several PSAs about sexual violence prevention and bystander education in Latino communities. We also offered a summer camp for 7 years to build community amongst Latina youth in Toronto. We foster discussions about leadership, bullying, body image, and gender-based violence in order to mitigate some of the issues that result in increased high school drop out rates and poverty.
Q: What are some factors that have led to MUJER’s successful projects?
A: We are very much a grassroots organization. We invite people to participate and bring themselves where they are at. They don’t need to have a certain politics to attend our events, and they don’t even need to identify as feminist. All people need to be is open and willing to learn and engage in respectful discussion. We do our outreach through social media mainly, which allows us to reach a large and diverse amount of people quickly and efficiently, which is important for our organization that is completely volunteer-run and has a very limited budget.
We also strive to avoid being overly academic. In our Latina American/Latin@ Feminisms course, we have tried to move away from academic materials that are heavy with jargon and replace it with arts-based materials to reach people who learn in different ways.
Finally, we run ourselves as a collective. Differing opinions are welcomed. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows – conflicts do happen – but we try and be sure to hear each other out and come to a compromise.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced being involved in MUJER, and what tips can you offer others who are trying to get involved in community building and advocacy in Toronto?
A: One of the biggest challenges for us is that as a volunteer-based organization, people have varying amounts of time to contribute, and the amount of time a person can offer is not proportionate to what they can bring to the organization. We consciously set the pace of our projects to allow people who have limited time to contribute, so that their voices are not minimized due to their other life circumstances.
Like many organizations, we have faced growing pains. New board members and volunteers bring new perspectives and ideas about the direction of the organization. Our strategy (which is currently in process) is to develop a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the organization outside of the individuals who are involved, so that the organization remains sustainable in the future. We are starting an official volunteer program so that volunteers get training and opportunities to guide MUJER’s direction and programming in a formal way.
My advice is to show up to events that interest you with an open mind. There are so many groups organizing in this city, and they are mostly volunteer run and in need of passionate people! Volunteering is such a rewarding opportunity to learn and meet new lifetime friends. Everyone has something to contribute.