End Rape on Campus (EROC): So Catalina, tell us a little about yourself!
Catalina: I was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. when I was 14 years old. I lived in Miami, FL to finish my Middle School and then in Katy, TX where I did all of my High School. I then became the first undocumented Transgender Latina to go to Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and since then I have lived in Washington, D.C. breaking one glass ceiling at a time. I studied the same major that former U.S. President Clinton did as an undergraduate student at Georgetown: International Politics: International Law, Norms, & Institutions. Due to my desire to understand the world through a critical gender lens, I also completed a certificate in Women and Gender Studies. I had as a great an experience as a person of my identities could have in a very privileged space. I was really involved in the community service group on campus, interned at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and advocated for the creation of the first LGBT Resource Center at a U.S. Catholic university. Unfortunately, my entire experience was tainted by the detention of my mother, father, and sister and their subsequent deportation. The realities of 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, the over 700,000 openly transgender people, and the over 26 million Latinas living in the U.S. pushed me to become a powerful advocate of all the communities I am part of. In other words, the work I do is informed by who I am, holding all of my identities as badges of honor.
EROC: We have to ask, what kind of work experiences have led you to pursue a career in communications?
C: Ever since I was a junior in High School, I knew what I wanted to study to operate at the nexus of public policy and communications. This intersection is called Public Affairs, and I LOVE IT! I have extensive experience as a strategist and public affairs professional, most recently served as Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships & Communications at Casa Ruby LGBT Resource Center and Senior Policy Advisor on LGBT Issues for U.S. Sen. Sanders Presidential Campaign. Prior to those roles, I worked as Interim Executive Director of Young People For (YP4) with People For the American Way Foundation and remain the President of Consult Catalina, a premier strategic communications and diversity management firm.
I have also been involved with the development, advocacy and communications departments at GetEQUAL and the Trans Women of Color Collective, as well as an appointed Commissioner for the DC Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs where I was directly involved in the drafting and passage of the Non-Driver’s Identification Card/Driver’s License Amendment Act of 2013.
I believe in giving back, so I volunteer as an advisory council member of United We Dream’s Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project and as part of the Boards of Directors at Our Revolution, Megaphone Strategies, Inclusv, and GetEQUAL.
I’m happiest when playing with my cat Principessa, racket sports, traveling to warm weather, and eating. Fun fact: I love anime!
EROC: Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to EROC?
C: We are currently at a time where a lot of sexual assault survivors are coming in larger numbers to denounce their perpetrators. I don't think this is a coincidence. This is the result of survivor advocacy and recent policy wins that have empowered survivors to more unapologetically demand for justice. I am a transgender immigrant Latina and a survivor myself. I have joined this space to ensure the communities I am part of can also benefit from recent policy wins as well as expose the need for intersectional advocacy among survivor spaces. Ultimately, I want every survivor, including immigrants, Latinx people, and transgender folks to know they are not alone!
EROC: What is your vision and how do you define success?
C: My vision is to craft a world that we are proud to live in – to breathe unapologetically, to celebrate our truths, our nationalities, our genders, or diversity in its wholeness. We have to come together to build each other up because there’s so much we can accomplish but we have to do it collectively. If we can create a world that serves and embraces and celebrates all of us, then everyone will have access to opportunities that are oftentimes not equally distributed. That can come about if we create the space for having these conversations, it’s the safe and brave spaces that provide the environment for people to really grow and learn and understand and take away a lot of the discomfort associated with the fight for gender justice. Although, I don’t see discomfort as a bad thing – it can be an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow together. Success must be adapted to various forms of leadership that are informed by the communities people come from and not just the way in which white supremacy narrowly defines.
EROC: How do you define your approach to social justice?
C: My social justice work is comprehensive and multidimensional. It’s work that focuses on people at the margins. If you look at everything I do, take away the prestige and the titles, it’s not just LGBTQ, not just immigrant justice and not just fighting income inequality; it’s about addressing the issues of complex human beings, because we live complex and nuanced lives and need to be able to see folks for who we are: multidimensional. It’s work that allows me to bring my full self, and I say that because not every place is welcoming of all of me.
EROC: Your previous work on the immigration, LGBTQ, feminist, racial, reproductive health, homelessness and poverty movements is extensive. What would you say binds these different movements together, at least for you?
C: A shared humanity. It’s this experience of waking up in a world that is every day less welcoming of all people that creates a need for us to come together to build common ground.
EROC: You manage a diversity consulting firm, what would you say are some of the biggest issues trans Latinas are experiencing right now in the workplace?
C: Many organizations have the willingness and desire to be pluralistic, but to be welcoming of people of all genders, races and backgrounds, there are systemic elements that need to be enforced. It’s not just about hanging a transgender flag or putting a very strong diversity HR policy on every job description. It’s looking at the most simple task that will guarantee you’re attracting a pull from different brilliant communities and will provide the cutting-edge pluralistic lens organizations need to meet the needs of the communities they want to serve. For example, look at your working space, is it one where you’re required to show an ID at the front door? Does it have healthcare for employees that define gender-affirming procedures as necessary, not cosmetic? Is your workplace a space that respects the privacy of employees when dealing with sensitive subjects? Is your job description based on people’s actual capabilities instead of their higher education credentials ? Do you offer mental health care days? There is a way to center underserved populations while meeting all legal requirements, and it goes beyond a tweet or a statement.
EROC: Any words of wisdom for other young people pursuing a career in social justice?
C: I often tell people that the most valuable thing to learn is how to love yourself for who you are. Across all genders, races, sexualities, immigration statuses, abilities, ages, class, and ethnicities, it’s important to feel valuable and lovable and reflect that back into the world. If I could tell a younger version of me one thing it would be to take a healthy path in embracing who you are – it takes a lot of the trauma and difficulty out of life. It takes a lot of self-esteem and confidence to thrive in this society and those are things that we do not get taught in a formal education setting.