Thursday, June 14, 2007

Amigas Latinas: Opening Doors, Celebrating Hermanas

I wanted to help La Bloga celebrate LGBT Pride month by profiling Amigas Latinas, an affinity group here in Chicago and one of its founders, Evette Cardona. I was lucky enough to meet Evette through her partner, Mona Noriega, both of whom have done groundbreaking work in the Latina and queer communities, with local and national impact. As a typical example of the kind of support the organization offers, when I, Ann Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston Coralin launched the release of Sister Chicas in Chicago in 2006, the Amigas were in full force at a reading they co-sponsored with a landmark Chicago independent bookstore, Women and Children First. With love and gratitude, I offer this post.

Find out more about this remarkable woman who is also an inductee in the City of Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and this vital organization.

Evette Cardona

Evette Cardona's lesbian activism began in 1993 when she came out "publicly" and became a founding member of WACT (Women of All Cultures Together), a gathering of lesbians, bisexual women, and heterosexual women allies taking advantage of Chicago's diversity to bridge racial, ethnic, and cultural divides. The group has held monthly potluck brunches throughout the Chicago area. During Cardona's tenure with WACT, over 70 brunches gathered suburban and city lesbians together.

As an organizer, she has helped to lead or found several community groups, including Women of All Cultures Together, Amigas Latinas, the Lesbian Community Cancer Project, and the Center on Halsted Steering Committee. As a philanthropic administrator, she has been especially helpful in funding organizations serving historically underrepresented community sectors.

In the summer of 1995, Cardona helped to found Amigas Latinas as an organization for Latina les/bi/questioning women. Through a model of monthly dining and discussion groups, the organization has provided a celebratory environment for English- and Spanish-speaking women to learn about the Latina community's diversity. The group addresses such issues as immigration rights, language barriers, and homophobia in special relationship to ethnic discrimination. In 1999, Cardona helped to create the Aixa Diaz Scholarship Gift Fund, named after an Amigas Latinas founder, to aid a Latina lesbian or bisexual student fighting high school homophobia and to aid children of Mozart Elementary School, where Diaz had taught first grade.

In 1997 Cardona became a member of the planning council of Color Triangle, a consortium of persons from various organizations who meet to discuss racism within the Chicago lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. She also co-chaired the Leadership Development Institute, designed to foster leadership in Chicago's LGBT community.

In 1998, Cardona joined the board of the Lesbian Community Cancer Project, which addresses lesbians' and women's health issues. In the autumn of that year, she aided in producing El Sexto Encuentro, the annual conference of LLEGO, the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Organization, which was hosted in Chicago.

Most recently, Cardona has become a member of the Center on Halsted Steering Committee, which in conjunction with Horizons Community Services is developing a community center that is anticipated to open in 2004. The committee is seeking community suggestions and involvement.

Professionally, as a Senior Program Officer at the Polk Bros. Foundation, she co-chaired the Funding Lesbian and Gay Issues Group of the Donors Forum of Chicago, which is a regional association of grant-makers. She is a current board member of the national Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues and is an executive committee member of Chicago Latinos in Philanthropy. She received a master-of-arts degree from the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration in 1998. In 1997, Cardona received a Leadership Award for Community Service from Chicago's Association of Latin Men for Action (ALMA). In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois presented her one of its annual John R. Hammell Awards for her work in the LGBT community.


What is Amigas Latinas, and what need did it meet for Chicago area Latinas?

Amigas Latinas is a support, education and advocacy organization that provides safe spaces, educational opportunities and resources for Latina women who love and partner with women to explore, challenge and celebrate who they are as women, as mothers, as daughters, as comadres.

The need we fill is both to offer space for women to understand and explore their lives at the intersection of their identities - Latina and woman-loving-woman at the same time to just be in the same space as other women like themselves, speaking the same language and sharing
the same culture.

Can you talk about its constituency and the ways the organization is representational? What kind of outreach does Amigas do to meet its goals? Platicas? Events? Socials?

Our membership is close to 300 women from all Latina cultures and all ages. Our diversity spans the range from third-generation, monolingual English speakers to recently-arrived, monolingual Spanish immigrant women. Many are newly out, many have been out for years and years and seek us out for the friendships and affinity we provide. About a third have children from previous heterosexual marriages, some are still in heterosexual marriages, some have disclosed issues of domestic violence and struggles with alcohol/substance abuse.

In the past several years, we have seen a 50% increase in the number of immigrant monolingual Spanish-speaking women seeking services that are non-existent due to a chronic lack of bilingual, bicultural service providers that are sensitive to sexual identity issues.

We mail to our membership of nearly 300 once to twice a month to advertise our monthly platicas, workshops and events, we have a listserve with about 200 women on it that is a great way to advertise quickly and broadly. Our web site is increasingly becoming a way for women to find us, too. We also advertise somewhat in the gay rags especially around special events, but we rely a lot on word of mouth. We have linkages with other lgbt organizations and are present at public events be it LGBT or Latino events to ensure the Latinaqueer voice is heard.

Aside from social contact and support, what kind of community building is Amigas involved with in both the Latino and LGBT community?

We spearheaded the development of the Chicago LGBTQ Immigrants Alliance (CLIA) to look at the challenges, myths and realities that arise at the intersection of queer and immigration issues. (We're planning a town hall for CLIA on June 12). We also helped create Entre Familia, the first Spanish-speaking PFLAG in the Chicago area. It's been meeting for three years. We partner with ALMA ( a gay Latino men 's affinity group) to do that work. We also partnered with Center on Halsted to start the first Latinaqueer youth group that meets monthly at the Center's facilities.

This January we launched our Proyecto Latina survey to gather information about who we are and what our needs, dreams and challenges are. That data will be used to inform our future work mobilizing the Latinaqueer community to inform and challenge policyholders and legislators to respond to and improve our lives.

Our biggest non-queer partnership is with Mujeres Latinas en Accion (a social service/anti- domestic violence organization) and we have annually provided trainings and education sessions to help their staff better serve Latinaqueer victims/survivors of domestic violence.

Talk in depth about the organization's scholarship activities and it's significance.

In 1999, Amigas launched the Aixa Diaz Scholarship Fund in memory of founding member, Aixa Diaz, who brought vision and commitment to the Latina lesbian/bisexual community through her organizing efforts, and knowledge and encouragement to Latino children through her dedication as a teacher. Over the last 7 years we have raised money to provide financial assistance to a young, lesbian/bisexual student activist of Latina heritage entering or enrolled in college who actively works to fight homophobia in high schools. Awards have also been given to gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in high schools with large Latino student populations and to the Mozart Elementary School where Aixa taught first grade, served on the Local School Council and was the Chicago Teachers Union delegate.

This work reflects the commitment Amigas has to education as a means of empowering women. We have awarded 12 scholarships ($1,000 - $2,000) to date and will award 3-4 scholarships this June. Our biggest success with the scholarships was last year when we brought on a 2004 Aixa Scholar, Zaida Sanabia, to head up our youth group efforts. She has been a wonderful addition to the Amigas family and is doing excellent work reaching out to Latinaqueer youth.

There are been much invisibility in the Latino community for women who love women. How would you describe the importance of LGBT reality to our people.

Amigas is built on the philosophy that as Latinas who love and partner with women we cannot separate our identities and often are asked to do just that throughout our lives. Coming out is a life-long process and being able to successfully blend our identities to live as healthy and complete persons in our families, work environments and communities is the reality we strive for with every activity we provide. As our vision statement proclaims we "celebrate our lives with pride and acceptance, without boundaries or limitations, fearlessly and unapologetically."


Take a look a some photos from Amiga's events!

Amigas 11th Anniversary celebration

Aixa Diaz Scholarship Dinner invitation

Proyecto Latina Survey


Other News:

Tianguis books|libros 2003 S. Damen Chicago, IL 60608

About Proyecto Latina

Proyecto Latina is a collaborative between Teatro Luna, Tianguis, and Mariposa Atomica Ink. We are excited about showcasing Latina talent and are always seeking outgoing Latina poets and performers for our monthly open mic series. Proyecto Latina takes place the third Monday of every month. Its an open mic so everything's game: Poetry, spoken word, music, monologues, shorts y en el idioma que prefieras. And if you're too shy to get on stage come and be one of the lucky spectators.

Proyecto Latina -- Recent and upcoming performers/2007 Calendar --- Mondays at 7 p.m.

January 15th: Diane Herrera
February 19th: Luna Blues Machine
March 19th: Silvia Rivera
April 16th: Sylvia Manrique
May 20th: Paloma Martinez-Cruz
June 18th: Lisa's shameless self promotion, forgive me.

...more dates coming soon...


Please join PAGE in welcoming three outstanding writers
to our last reading of the season:

Free Food for Millionaires

The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue


Their Dogs Came with Them


Thursday, June 14, 2007
7:00 p.m.
The National Arts Club

free and open to the public
open bar and refreshments
books sold at a discount
jacket requested


The National Arts Club * 15 Gramercy Park South * NYC 10003
PAGE is directed by Fran Gordon and Wah-Ming Chang.

For more information,
please e-mail
or go to


Lisa Alvarado


High Power Rocketry said...

: )

Anonymous said...

Great article. Even the title gave me chills. "...Opening Doors, Celebrating Hermanas

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Great post! So many wonderful writers.

Missy said...

Amigas Latinas is a great org, one of the first i was a part of, when i was trying to figure out who the heck i was. Nice post, Lisa. I just found it today, like what 4 months later. lol. Better late than never.

Anonymous said...

About Coatlicue Theatre, Shan Colorado Finnerty, Hortensia Colorado, and Elvira Colorado

We are a group of friends that know and worked with a young woman named Joy Loftin while she was employed at the Vanderbilt YMCA here in New York City. During the length of her employment, several extremely disturbing incidents occurred that cause us to be concerned and call into question the motives and the integrity of Shan Colorado Finnerty, Hortensia Colorado, and Elvira Colorado.

On several occasions, Joy came to work with visible bruises on her neck and arms. She eventually explained to us that Shan had punched, beaten, and choked her and she asked us for help. As wardens for the community, we tried to place Joy in women’s shelters around the city in an effort to mitigate the abuse. However, at the urging of Shan’s mother and aunt, Hortensia and Elvira, she returned to their apartment and refused to press criminal charges against Shan Colorado Finnerty. The abuse continued and one day, she came to work very early, visibly distressed and crying, with more bruises and abrasions. She said that Shan had verbally abused and beaten her once again; that she wanted to return to California, and that she was going to quit her job and reunite with her family. She tendered her resignation later that week. Out of concern for her safety and in an effort to find out what happened to her, we requested an officer from the domestic violence unit of the 5th Precinct conduct a welfare check at their home on Kenmare Street. However the officer was unable to find anyone at the apartment, and therefore could not verify that Joy was safe. We realize that she is suffering from battered women’s syndrome and may be unable to help herself due to the isolationist environment that the Colorados have formed around her. Abusive men are often enabled by their family, while the victim is persuaded to believe the abuse is her fault, and the pattern of emotional and physical trauma continues. Taking into consideration what has happened to Joy Loftin, it is especially deceitful that their display "Altar: El Llanto De La Resistancia" at the American Indian Community House was in part dedicated to victims of domestic violence.

In light of these events, we are dismayed, disappointed, and outraged to know that members of the American Indian Community would commit, condone, and perpetuate domestic abuse and violence, while simultaneously conducting workshops, writing and performing plays, and displaying works and art that would have the public and those who support them believe otherwise. It is a vulgar and offensive misrepresentation of American Indian Culture, and further support of Coatlicue Theater, Hortensia Colorado, Elvira Colorado, Shan Colorado Finnerty and their work is tantamount to supporting domestic abuse and violence. Considering their duplicitous behavior, having them represent American Indian Culture is an insult to the dignity of American Indians and an affront to human beings.

We therefore will not attend nor support any Coatlicue Theater productions or events where they will be featured. We will be encouraging others that might consider attending, participating, or funding them to do the same. Our actions are warranted, and to be associated with the aforementioned individuals and Coatlicue Theater would be equivalent to enabling and contributing to such offensive behaviour. We are urging everyone to reevaluate their support of Coatlicue Theatre and the Colorados, and question the individuals concerned. Until the responsible individuals are held accountable and measures are taken to verify that the abuse is no longer occurring, we will continue with our boycott of Coatlicue Theatre and we will strongly urge others to do the same.