Linda Reyes, Activist

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This is my friend (and sorority sister), Linda. She has always been involved in local movements and worked with various organizations to implement change for the better. Sometimes, we all have the inspiration to get involved, and we don't know how. Whether it is signing petitions, using art as a form of protest, or actively marching on the streets, read about how we can be part of the change to influence the bigger picture. 

 

Linda, why were you drawn into the organizations you are involved in?

The short answer is: I wanted to be closer to community.

Before my current job, I was at a nonprofit that provides free legal services to immigrant survivors of domestic violence and undocumented youth.  This work is still very personal and close to my heart, but as a grant writer, I didn’t get much opportunity to interact with the community we worked with.  I wanted to be closer to the work, and I really wanted to connect with and hear other people’s stories, not just write their stories for them. My role at my current organization still involves grant writing, fundraising and marketing, but I don’t feel as disconnected.  I’ve been able to build relationships with and learn from not only my coworkers but also the youth and community members who come by the office or to events.

Beyond that, I’ve always felt the most meaningful impact happens when you support people not through handouts, but by providing access.  With the right tools and knowledge, people have the freedom to build the lives they envision for themselves. The organization I work at now shares these values and approach by using education to empower youth and communities of color to become agents of change. This work includes training youth in research and policy advocacy so they can address issues affecting their communities, teaching families how to grow their own food so they can make healthy life choices, and teaching youth technical and creative skills so they can create narratives that authentically represent themselves.

This year, I also wanted to get back to art and creativity.  Finding my voice through writing and art at an early age helped me make sense of myself and of very difficult times in my life.  I’ve always believed art to be a powerful tool not just for personal transformation but for social justice as well. This led me to Tuesday Night Project, a grassroots group based in Little Tokyo that puts on Tuesday Night Cafe (the longest running Asian-American mic series in the country - currently in its 20th season!) and programs that bridge art and community.  I was excited to join TNP’s volunteer staff this year because the space provides a platform for people to share their unique stories, build with one another, and heal as a community. It’s also allowed me to connect with Asian-American artists and community organizers here in Los Angeles.

 

You mentioned that you’re involved on a grassroot level, how that make a macro impact?

I think that macro level impact often starts with grassroots level work. The reality is that major, long-term change will always take time, but you still have to pay attention to the individual people whose day-to-day lives are being affected.

While I was still in college, I dreamed of working with communities in my parents’ home countries in Southeast Asia (something I still hope to do someday).  I wanted to eventually work with youth in Burma, where there had been some censorship and lack of free speech, on writing and spoken word. I didn’t believe a youth writing program would change policies, but I was hopeful that it could provide tools for youth to share their stories and speak out against injustice.

By connecting with individuals, I believe you can build a foundation that creates a lasting impact for generations and years to come.  This is the kind of work that affects people’s daily lives, invites them to come into community, and can empower people with the tools to advocate for policy and systems change.

 

We are in a scary political climate right now to say the least, and there are many ways to get involved. What are some advices on how to get involved if monetary donations are not viable?

I will say that small donations still help!  Consider being a recurring donor (maybe even $5/month) for an organization whose work you truly believe in.  In addition to funding direct program costs, nonprofits also need funds to sustain capacity, have enough people to do the work, and give people living wages in a sector that is often associated with sacrificing one's livelihood.

If you can’t donate money, offer your time and skills. I am a little weary of just one-time, occasional volunteering. It takes a lot of energy to constantly train new volunteers who will help out for a couple of hours – not that it isn’t valued or appreciated! – so if you can commit to volunteering regularly or even offering your skills to a long-term project, ask about what opportunities are available and get involved!

I’m also a big advocate of simply sharing your story. Going to community art spaces – experiencing art through writing, visuals or performance pieces – always fills and heals me.  Just hearing about other people’s experiences and connecting with strangers is cathartic, and you never know who your story is going to touch, move and inspire.

If all else fails, just be kind and do your part to make this world a better place – however that looks like for you. I’m still figuring this out for myself and how I can be an advocate in everyday spaces outside of my work. For me, it has included having honest conversations with friends and family about prejudice, and being conscious of who and what I support (ie. influential people and businesses).

 

What is the rewarding part of being involved in social justice, and with that comes some downfalls - what are some for you?

I think the hardest part about this work is that there’s just SO MUCH of it. There’s so much to do, there are so many forces out to harm so many different people, there’s a new policy every week that sets back years of progress.  It’s so much to take in and process all the time. There’s always a sense of urgency because these issues are affecting real people every day, these issues are often a matter of life or death – and it can be frustrating to be limited in what I can actually accomplish.  It’s also taxing to be so close to work on issues that personally affect me. Back when I was working at an organization supporting domestic violence survivors, I was still trying to leave an abusive relationship. Every day was emotionally draining, and I felt like I was reliving trauma.  Maybe that wasn’t the healthiest thing for me to do at the time, but in the end it helped me grow and empowered me to make changes for myself.

And I think that’s why I do this work.  As difficult and draining as it can be, I believe deeply in humanity and equity, so this work gives me purpose.  It helps me do something about the things impacting my community, about the things that make me angry. And I find that the best part of this work is being in community.  Fighting the good fight with amazing people who have dedicated their lives to justice and equity. Hearing stories from other people about their experiences and building authentic relationships with them.  Knowing that other people are just as angry as I am, while also having spaces for us to heal together, get energized and take action.

 

What do you see for yourself in the next three to five years?

Well, right now, I’m focused on learning some new skills and getting more grounded in my community.  I’m excited to attend an activist training this summer, where I hope to develop skills in community organizing and figure out what movements I can plug into.  I’m also volunteering with different groups, so that I can learn more about strategies such as arts organizing and creative place-keeping. In the next few years, I hope to be using these new skills to combat gentrification and displacement that have negatively affected communities of color in Los Angeles (and around the country), as well as build Asian-American solidarity with the movement for Black Lives.


Through all these endeavors, I see myself using art more as a tool for activism.  Art is powerful. It’s what gets me through, and I believe it has the power to move others and inspire change.

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Interviewed by Chary 

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