by Andrea Gutierrez
» Originally published in make/shift (Summer/Fall 2017, no. 20)
When Michelle Lozano and Bree’Anna Guzman, two young women from Los Angeles’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood, were murdered within months of each other in 2011 and 2012, sisters Selena Ortega and Adriana Duran knew they had to act. They didn’t know the murdered women, but they knew it easily could have been their own bodies found dumped alongside the freeway. “At that time, we walked everywhere,” Duran recalls. Guzman was last seen alive at the same Rite Aid that Duran and Ortega had known their entire lives. “We waited at that bus stop. We were always at that intersection,” Ortega said. “We were angry. And we wanted an outlet.”
Hijas de la Paz was born. Guided primarily by Duran and Ortega, Hijas de la Paz converts anger into action through events aimed at empowering women and girls in Lincoln Heights, a mostly working-class, immigrant, and Latinx neighborhood. Within a week of the discovery of Guzman’s body, Hijas de la Paz formed and hosted their first event, a Take Back the Night march and rally whose main act of defiance was in the route planning. A group walked along the dark alleys and backstreets of the neighborhood, from one victim’s home to the next, ending at the Rite Aid that Hijas de la Paz refused to fear. They gained the attention and enthusiastic support of their local city councilman for their next event, Empowerment Day, where they hosted free workshops for the community.
Ortega and Duran have dealt with the challenges that often come with grassroots organizing in working-class communities of color. Beyond their initial events, Hijas de la Paz have struggled to maintain members and gain new ones. “This is extra time that people have to put in. And people are so consumed in their everyday lives, they don’t take that extra time for themselves,” Ortega says. They have also dealt with pushback. A flyer for a Hijas de la Paz event about the commodification of breast cancer featured artwork depicting bare breasts. Some local women were offended, saying it was inappropriate. Among the group’s most successful and best-attended events are Lunch Walks. “Because we didn’t have cars when we started,” Duran says, “we backpacked lunches from Lincoln Park to downtown” (about five miles round-trip). “Our goal is to give lunch to people who don’t have one.”
Recently, Hijas de la Paz events have been more sporadic. Duran moved out of the neighborhood to Echo Park, where she works, and Ortega has her plate full with graduate school, her position as a representative on the neighborhood council, and her budding activism in neighboring Boyle Heights, whose struggle against gentrification the sisters see as not far removed from their work with Hijas de la Paz. “If you don’t take control and get involved in your community,” Duran said, “then someone else is going to come in and take control of it.”
Ultimately, the sisters see Hijas de la Paz as a means to educate the women and girls in their community and help them redefine feminism for themselves. They have hosted what they call Chicana Literature Dialogs, informal talks about Chicana literature and scholarship over coffee, which double as a chance to catch up on each other’s lives. “There are a lot of women in our community who don’t necessarily have guidance. Some of our mothers didn’t have the opportunity to go to college,” Duran says. “We’re trying to change the discourse of what feminism is.” ☀