Living Latina is a series telling the stories of amazing Latinas that are in our life. They are models for Cadena, friends of Cadena and overall women we greatly admire.
I met Maria when she was a young teen in high school and was awed by her go-getter spirit and willingness to speak up about her immigration status and willingness to stand up for others. She always struck me as wise beyond her years, honest to the core and loyal to her family, friends and community. As time went on, we continued to run into each other at community events and my admiration for her work ethic continued to grow. We asked her to model for Cadena because she embodies a young Latina who lives in-between two cultures, never forgetting where she comes from, embracing the space she lives in and fighting for the future she wants to see. Get to know more about Maria below:
1. Maria, you’re one of the women who often inspires us - who inspires you?
I am humbled to hear that I inspire folks cause if anything I draw inspiration from this wonderful community of do-ers and trailblazers. My biggest inspiration, and as cheesy as it may sound, is my mom. She instilled in me the very basic principle of hard work and to lean into the willpower of doing whatever it takes to get what we want in this journey of life. She is the woman who didn't let physical borders or language barriers stop her from giving this little pale niña de Durango what she needed to succeed. She has taught me that nothing can deter you from what your dream is, especially when you set your mind to it. I am a physical manifestation of that and I tell people every day that your dream is only really a phone call away. I say phone call because you can always call someone who knows someone who can put you in the right direction.
2. You’re deeply involved in the community. How did it start?
It started with me being very vocal about my legal status, I would always raise my voice about things that excluded undocumented students (i.e. voter registration drives) and I did it without thinking too much of it, I was a class clown and would always crack some jokes about it (ey, Miss you know I don't have the papers for that) and from it so many folks would come up to me to tell me how they were in the same situation. It drew something in me to bring resources for us to the school. I got involved at a young age in the quest for bridging inequities that I personally went through, from LULAC to North Texas Dream Team, both of these organizations introduced me to the fast paced world of social justice organizing.
Oftentimes, we as organizers/activists run so fast to mentally and physically that we burn ourselves out. I gave most of my adolescence and adult life into this work and it was this pandemic that told me to slow down, teach others and pass the torch. After all, this is a relay race and we all need to pass the baton to keep this work going.
3. During the start of COVID you mentioned that you were able to reconnect with family time. Have you found a new balance in community work?
If COVID has taught me anything it has been the value of every moment with those you love. I was able to reconnect more with my family because of the lockdown we all went through beginning of March and throughout the time of this pandemic that we try to stay indoors as much as possible. This was the first time in about 10 years that I was really with my family and what I mean by that is that I wasn't in my usual routine of leaving the house to attend a rally, meeting, network event, work event, etc. the list goes on. But, instead I was at home with the folks who deeply care about me and my well being. It was then that I started to really grasp the gravity of how much love we lack to ourselves when we pour so much into the community. Oftentimes, we as organizers/activists run so fast to mentally and physically that we burn ourselves out. I gave most of my adolescence and adult life into this work and it was this pandemic that told me to slow down, teach others and pass the torch. After all, this is a relay race and we all need to pass the baton to keep this work going. I have found a new balance in community work and the way I give back, I have learned to set boundaries and give myself time to heal to return when I am able to.
4. Would you consider yourself and activist or organizer?
I think over the course of time I have played the role of both, I would consider myself an organizer in the moment that I am in now. When I was younger I was definitely an activist, which included being present at every rally, leading chants, painting posters, anything you can think of related to leading a protest, I have done it. Now, I focus more on activating our community to grow with knowledge that will empower them to be advocates in their spaces. Everyone carries a voice that is unique to them and no one person can cover all of that so as an organizer I try my best to instill that sense of agency to them because they definitely have it.
5. You bring so many joy with your comedy. What brings your joy?
My family brings me joy, we are all avid storytellers and I have learned through them how to paint such a vivid picture with my words. It definitely has been a rollercoaster ride with them but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Learning English was definitely a stepping stone into my personal storytelling but back home we all crack jokes and roast each other (not too far though) and it fills my spirit to smile with those I deeply care about. Also, my "for you page" on TikTok doesn't miss a beat on making me laugh.
6. What is next for you and how can we support and champion you?
I really don't know HA! I always think I have the next step figured out but I recently just bought a house and let me tell you that was nowhere near in my next steps. I kinda have always stumbled upon opportunity and it’s been up to me to ask myself, "am I going to take this opportunity?" and of course I take it and run with it as best as I can and I know it works out because I am fully equipped to take it on. The possibilities are endless though in terms of what I want to do, whether it's going back to school, leaning into public service or starting my own agency focused on non-profit work, I just ask that you all join me in this ride of figuring it out.
Maria, drop your social media handles and where we can follow you.
You can follow my shenanigans at @mariayolis on all social platforms, my hand lettering work on @yolisletters
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