Media Chica is giving young Latina high schoolers a chance to think outside the box career-wise and go beyond cultural expectations.
By Aisling Ayers, Photos by Elisa Garcia
Standing in the magazine aisle, eleven-year-old Rita Olivares picked up a bright orange copy of Tiger Beat. As a young Latina girl, she says she couldn’t relate to the primarily white teenagers on the cover and their stories inside.
“You’re reading these stories that are published and you can’t really relate to them. It’s not written to your experiences,” Olivares says. “It’s not written towards something that you might think or say.”
Thirteen years later, Olivares’ passion for writing and Latinx representation has led her to Media Chica. A free certification program dedicated to teaching high school girls the ins and outs of multimedia journalism.
The workshop operates under Latinitas. An Austin-based online magazine that began in 2002 as a platform for the stories of young Latinas.
“There’s not a lot of publications or places where girls, especially Gen Z…or just any girl of color can relate to the stories,” Olivares says. “There are stories [in Latinitas]about imposter syndrome, about representation. There are stories dispelling the stereotypes about young Latina girls.”
Latinitas also offers a variety of workshops and conferences for girls to learn STEM-related skills such as coding in cities across Texas, New Mexico, California and Massacusates.
In February 2019, Olivares began working as a volunteer writer for Latinitas. Several months later, the magazine asked her to help plan the revival of a media-focused program for high school girls. She accepted with the goal to encourage girls to pursue a career in media and journalism.
Media Chica is Born
According to the 2018 Status of Women in the U.S. Media study, women of color makeup 7.95% of U.S. print newsroom staff. The Pew Research Center reported that 48% of newsroom employees are non-hispanic white men.
Media Chica initially planned its first official program to take place in-person but quickly pivoted to teach a Spring 2020 cohort of students over Zoom due to COVID-19. This fall, the program’s third cohort met once a week, while creating podcasts, writing articles for Latinitas and covering virtual panels at The Texas Tribune Festival.
“It’s not only a program for girls to come in and just write and do whatever they want,” Olivares says. “It is also to show them a career path; it’s to show them opportunities outside of the typical careers that they hear [about].”
A Lot of Creativity, Few Outlets
Growing up in a Latin household, Elisa Garcia says her grandparents taught her the two acceptable paths for future careers. Education or law school.
“When I told my family I wanted to change my major to…study journalism, they completely thought I was crazy and [they said]‘You’re going to be poor. What type of future is that going to lead [to]?’ They didn’t understand it,” Garcia, a University of Texas alumna, remembers.
Now the magazine editor of Latinitas, Garcia serves on the Media Chica committee with Olivares, Vanessa Batz and Andrea Morales. She says each of the four committee members is an editor and a mentor for the girls.
“I find the Latino community to be super creative. Especially growing up in South Texas, there’s murals anywhere you turn,” Garcia says. “I don’t think it should be surprising that we offer some type of creative outlet to the community we serve.”
Latina and female journalists of color also regularly serve as guest speakers in the program. Jackie Ibarra, a sophomore journalism student at UT and staff writer for Latinitas, was in Media Chica’s spring 2020 cohort. She says the guest speakers impacted her the most.
“Being able to see people who are actually in the media that come from similar backgrounds like me. I think it just makes me really feel more inspired to get out there and do it myself,” Ibarra said.
In her hometown of Laredo, Olivares was regularly told writing “wasn’t a real career.”
A few months ago, a high school girl from Laredo messaged her after attending a Media Chica session.
“She told me, ‘Media Chica has inspired me to keep on writing,’” Olivares says. “Even if I live in Austin, I’m still able to impact my community from my hometown.”