Feminist Community Building with Laura Salamanca

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.

Laura Salamanca Pic

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.

WiTOPoli Weekly: Friday, September 5

A roundup of some of the latest news in women, Toronto, and/or politics this week. What stories did you read this week? Tell us in the comments.

  • Polls are showing that Olivia Chow has fallen to third place in the Toronto mayoral race, behind John Tory and Rob Ford. The Toronto Star argues that this may be due to the falling popularity of the NDP and the rise in Liberal support in Toronto. Although Chow has tried to make her campaign “free of party politics,” she will be hoping for a large NDP turnout on election day.
  • Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she has not heard from or spoken with PM Harper since March, even with her re-election more than two months ago. She admits that she has not “specifically asked for a conversation,” but that she hopes to create a good working relationship between the provincial and federal government. Premier Wynne also stated that she will be supporting Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, during the upcoming federal election.
  • Olivia Chow has announced that, if elected as Toronto mayor, she would raise the land-transfer tax on high-end homes. Chow argues that raising the land-transfer fees by one per cent on homes worth more than $2-million would create an extra $20-million to fund school nutrition programs, as well as engineering studies to improve the TTC.
  • This week, Ontario students returned to school and full-day kindergarten programs are already facing difficulties. Educators and parents have already filed many complaints with the Ministry of Education about the large class sizes. While Ontario daycares must limit sizes to only eight children per one educator, and primary school classes can only have 23 students, there is currently no set limit for students in kindergarten classes.
  • After being treated for tongue and throat cancers which doctors say were caused by HPV, Conservative MP Peter Kent is now speaking out in favour of funding HPV vaccines for boys. Some provinces already vaccinate girls for free, but there is no funding at the moment to vaccinate boys. Kent says that he will speak to Health Minister Rona Ambrose about this idea, and will continued to do what he can to raise awareness of HPV and its links to cancer amongst men and women.
  • On Thursdaythe top four mayoral candidates met for a lunch debate organized by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and the Globe and Mail. Gathered in front of a sold-out crowd of business leaders, candidates used the opportunity to challenge each other on their respective funding proposals for transit, while also discussing youth unemployment and affordable housing.