“When we talk about feminism, we want to make sure we are bringing along all women, not just some women,” said Cristina Garcia, California assembly member and chair of the California legislative women’s caucus. Garcia recently participated in an engaging conversation with Holly J. Mitchell, Mount Saint Mary’s Legislator in Residence and Los Angeles County supervisor, as part of the 2020-2021 Legislator in Residence Virtual Speaker Series.
The discussion, “The Future Is Female: Why Women’s Leadership Matters,” which focused on gender equity, intersectional feminism, and community activism, was hosted by Emerald Archer, director of the Center for the Advancement of Women.
The two speakers began by sharing examples of the challenges they face as women of color in politics. “Even the smaller things are a struggle,” says Garcia. “I’m a Latina, and I have really curly hair. I was told, ‘You should straighten your hair so people take you seriously.’ Women in general have that, but there’s another layer when you add race. And the more layers we add, the more work we have to do to get our fair share of the pie.”
“It’s important to identify these multi-layered challenges of intersectionality so we can dismantle them,” said Mitchell.
The conversation then turned to a lesson of the power of community activism. Ten years ago, Garcia was working as a math teacher and moved home to Bell Gardens to help her ailing parents. After being frustrated by local policies, she began attending city council meetings, asking questions and making her presence known as an ethical watchdog. When news of the corruption scandal broke in the nearby city of Bell, she formed a local advocacy organization that forced Bell’s corrupt officials out of office and brought about reform. That experience launched her journey into politics.
“My experience in Bell made me realize that the narrative of success needs to change,” said Garcia. “Growing up, I thought success meant leaving my community and never coming back. But I now realize that we have a responsibility to invest in our communities.”
Mitchell agreed. “Starting locally in your community is a great way to gain leadership experience,” she added.
As the discussion concluded, Garcia reminded the Mount community of their personal responsibility for advancing women. “Feminism is having women lead in all levels of society, but with that power comes a responsibility to share it,” she said. “All of us need to be saying, ‘How can I help others be successful?’”
Watch “The Future Is Female: Why Women’s Leadership Matters”