What do you do as Program Assistant & Financial Associate at The Latin America Working Group (LAWG)?
I work on our programmes, going into US foreign policy towards Cuba, Colombia, and Central America. Primarily the northern triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Because the Latin America Working Group is both an organisation and a coalition of organisations, we do our own programmatic work publishing reports, blogs, and grassroots action alerts and we also work in conjunction with a coalition. We manage meetings with organisations from the US and throughout Latin America and we bring delegations to visit – mostly human rights defenders and civil society actors from the countries where we’re focused with our programme work.
A big part of what I will do is to accompany some of these delegations to their meetings with congressional offices, with the state department and various public events. We’ll plan these events so that they can directly speak on the issues that are impacting them with regards to US foreign policies in their country.
What has been your biggest learning at The Latin America Working Group?
I had never been engaged in direct lobbying and so it’s been a great learning experience to see that side of it. Previous to that, I had mostly focused on writing about foreign policy, which is still something that I do a great deal of. I’m actually in the process currently of publishing a series of posts as part of a report on a trip that we took late last year. I’m engaged in a lot of the analysis of foreign policy, which I am using to directly reach out to our grassroots network to get them engaged in changing the policies as well.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Because we’re such a small team, there’s a lot of space for me to engage in different kinds of work. Any given day, my job will be different from the one before, so I’ve been engaged in everything from creating video projects with a group of Honduran migrants to photographing delegations that have come to visit us and accompanying them to events. I’ve been able to create infographics as well as write reports. My favourite thing is that it’s very dynamic; I have a lot of space to grow in various skills.
What other skills make you good at it?
Working in a small non-profit requires you to be creative and to figure out new ways to reach out to other organisations and to your grassroots and to keep them engaged. My interest in creating visual graphic elements to express these complicated issues of foreign policy has been really important for engaging a broader audience.
How did you develop your creative skills?
It’s come from a lot of different experiences. I freelanced before and in-between the positions that I’ve held in Washington. I’ve held internships and positions that weren’t directly related to foreign policy or to Latin America, but those experiences were helpful in exposing me to engagement and social media and in practicing outreach in a casual language that can be different from what you learn at a university.
Most of the foreign policy knowledge and understanding of the region that I had coming into the workforce came from my experience studying. I completed a Master’s degree at Vanderbilt University in Latin American studies. That was very useful for me in engaging more directly with the history of the policies in the region. A lot of the more creative work that I’ve done has been very freelance in nature. For instance, last year I co-launched and co-produced a podcast. It’s called Periphery and it’s just one example of the venues and outlets that I’ve tried to use to engage with a broader audience. A lot of these skills have been self-taught. I’ve just had to do some research, delve in and start practicing. It’s been really illuminating for me!
What sparked your interest in Latin America?
My mother is from Cuba. My father is from Puerto Rico. I grew up in South Florida, which has a one of the most highly concentrated Hispanic populations in the United States. I grew up speaking Spanish with my grandparents, but mostly English with my parents and at school. When I went off to study at George Mason University for my undergraduate degree, I knew I had an interest in foreign policy, but I wasn’t really sure exactly what region I would concentrate on.
As I started in my studies, I realised that with my language skills in Spanish and my direct connection to the region through cultural experiences growing up, it made sense to me to delve more deeply into the region. The more I did that, the more interested I became. One of the first areas that I really began to study in my undergraduate degree was the civil conflict in Colombia, particularly the ways that the conflict impacts and is impacted by women. Themes of gender and conflict and the effects of US foreign policy have always deeply interested me and I think they play out in really interesting ways in Latin America.
Let me see if I can think of an example of something that might make a little bit clearer sense. For example, in El Salvador (which I visited in September 2015) I was able to meet with feminist organisations and with women’s rights organisations that are focused on the impacts of violence against women. It was very powerful to see how the civil society groups in that country and others throughout the region have been able to very closely document many things that are, in general, hard to document because of lack of transparency – things like the homicide rates of women and interfamilial violence and domestic violence and sexual violence. El Salvador is now the murder capital of the world, with the highest per capita homicide rates in the world for a peace-time country. The security crisis is affecting women in very different ways than men. It was very impactful for me to go and meet with female advocates and human rights defenders, such as the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) who maintain databases documenting cases of violence against women in El Salvador. To see that women like these have been able to engage in such an active defence of human rights in the face of extreme violence against women and a nationwide security crisis has been very powerful for me, and inspires me to continue my work in support of them.