We Were Angry and Wanted an Outlet”: Hijas de la Paz

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.” ☀

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