Across the U.S., media outlets typically have few Latino reporters, and the communities’ needs are often underserved.
That was part of the impetus behind the founding of VozColectiva Newsroom. The new collaborative media outlet has five volunteer reporters, all of them women who immigrated to the Philly region, who work with a small global support team.
They use printed pamphlets, WhatsApp, and social media platforms to disseminate information to their circles, reaching hundreds of other Latinas.
Their aim? To do the work needed to address difficult problems, and be a resource for people like them.
In April, VozColectiva hosted a workshop with the Nationalities Service Center in Philly to explore a legally complicated issue: women without residential papers or citizenship status who are experiencing domestic violence.
“They think that they have to suffer because they are afraid that they will be deported,” Yesenia Alejandro, a priest and VozColectiva reporter, told Billy Penn. “They are afraid of losing their families. We want to empower those women. To let them know that they can get ahead of this, and that there are resources and we can give them information so that they can leave that violence.”
Emma Restrepo, a Philadelphia journalist who founded VozColectiva as part of her media organization 2Puntos, is proud of the work the women have accomplished using their lived experience and tenacity for helping Latinas.
“They all are all alpha females, which is a problem, but also, it is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity,” Restrepo said.
“I said in the beginning, ‘Hey chicas, let’s try to fix the problems of the community. Let’s try to put on the table what are the problems that you think need more attention and let’s start to produce information about those topics.’”
Hispanic or Latino representation in the media industry grew from 11% to 12% over the past decade, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
That’s not nearly enough to keep up with the growing population: Hispanic people in the U.S. numbered 50.5 million in 2010 and 55 million in 2015, according to the Census — a 9% increase over just five years.
In Pennsylvania, Hispanic people are the fastest growing part of the population, increasing by 274k last decade (38%), while the commonwealth’s total population only grew by 91k, per the Pew Research Center. In Philly, Latino people now make up nearly 16% of city residents
As underrepresented as Latinos are in media, Latinas are even less, as women make up just 3% of all media roles, according to the GAO report.
Getting information to people who have nowhere else to turn
As the VozColectiva reporters expand their news coverage to increase representation, they plan to keep revisiting the issue of domestic violence.
“We don’t want any more women to be abused. Just like we were able to leave, we want to help other women leave. That’s why it was our first and strongest topic,” said Tannia Solis, another reporter who also works as a hair supply distributor and is president of the Professional Beauty Association.
It’s a generational trauma many Latinas have to face. “That comes from before us, from our parents and grandparents,” explained VozColectiva reporter Mary Sampallo, who is also a server at a restaurant.
“Many times we think [domestic violence] is something normal,” said reporter Alejandro. “We want to tell women ‘No, it is not appropriate for a person to hit you or take your money or tell you how to dress.’ We want to give that message out so that people can educate themselves.”
More than 1 in 3 of Hispanic women in the U.S. experience sexual or physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a CDC report looking at data from 2010-2012.
In Pennsylvania, 112 victims died from domestic violence incidents in 2021, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Fifteen percent of Hispanics in Philadelphia were at higher risk for intimate partner violence, and 7% of Hispanics in Pennsylvania, according to a 2021 report by the organization.
While resources to tackle domestic violence do exist in Pennsylvania and other states, a big challenge for those seeking help is the lack of resources in Spanish.
As most of VozColectiva’s volunteers are survivors themselves, they understand the need.
“They are problems that happen daily and are not focused on nor given importance. But because we have lived experience as victims, and we have listened to over 300 women with the same experience, there has to be importance given to the issue,” said Mercy Mosqueia, reporter and owner of Tierra Colombiana restaurant in North Philly.
VozColectiva publishes information in non-traditional formats, including audio capsules, podcasts, printouts that fit inside a cell phone cover, and coming soon, easily accessible bite-size articles.
“Today we have cellphones, social networks. But we also do not find the information there. There’s no one saying here’s a service for women if you are suffering or asking for help for your friend,” said Evelyn Toriz, a physical therapist.
VozColectiva founder Restrepo is excited about the possibilities VozColectiva opens up, for the reporters and everyone they reach.
“They are super busy women. So it’s hard. But I think they can be an engine of development in the community,” Restrepo said. “I really think that they can be that.”