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Latina women fight displacement with salsa, jewelry and business savvy

Westwood community
Posted at 12:56 PM, Oct 01, 2021

DENVER, Co. — Sisters Mathilde and Antonia Garcia are going through packs and packs of jewelry they made themselves.

To you and me, these bracelets and necklaces are beautiful pieces of wearable art. To these women, they mean housing security.

"It's very hard to see the families (that) have to move outside to start again in another place and for me. That's the saddest thing that's happened here," said Mathilde.

Mathilde is talking about Westwood, Denver's historically Latino neighborhood. What’s happening in Westwood is something that’s happening in neighborhoods like it all over the country and that's displacement and gentrification.

"We have been pushing for renters to have control over landlords because rent is being raised indiscriminately," said Irma Diaz.

Diaz, along with the Garcias, have been watching their neighbors, who have worked to make Westwood a better place, get priced out and have to move away from their cultural center.

"The cultures of the Mayans, Aztecs, Mexicas are in those murals, you feel a familiarity when you see your ancestors embodied in that art," Diaz said, talking about the colorful murals all around the neighborhood that highlight her culture.

The three women, originally from Mexico, wanted a way to prevent displacement from happening, so the Mujeres Emprendadoras Co-operative was born. Started in 2017, each member chipped in $100 to the cooperative and they work jobs that align with their already existing skills: jewelry making, catering, and salsa making.

The money they make goes into their goal: every member eventually owning their own home.

However, more important than the money they make is the financial knowledge and business skills they share with one another, because that, to them, it’s not only security but freedom.

"We used to hear like a lot of time, 'Oh, it's impossible. You cannot get a license to get to sell food,'" said Mathilde, "It's not true. Actually, it's very easy to get a license to sell food. You have to make to be sure that you are doing correctly."

The women have spoken about their cooperative in front of banks and universities and soon, their salsa line will even be selling in stores. To the women, the most rewarding thing is seeing their determination being passed down.

"I really appreciate the admiration our children have for us," said Antonia, "When you hear your children talk about what you do, it cheers you up. That’s why we keep going."

"I think in our community, the big thing that we have is we don't believe that we could, Mujeres is a way to say we could and we will do it," said Mathilde.

They hope they inspire others to find the inner power to prove to themselves that nothing, not freedom or security, is impossible.