Yoana Molina Marcial, Guerreras Latinas Executive & Programs Director
For me, Food Justice means that my family, my entire community and I have access to food that is fresh, of good quality and affordable. We should be able to afford food regardless of our immigration status, zip code, socioeconomic position and all other systemic factors that currently impact access to quality, healthy food for immigrant and low-income families.
The Guerreras Latinas program, which originally started at the Rosewood Initiative in 2015, has become an independent non-profit organization under the same name. Founded and led by community leader and activist Yoana Molina Marcial, they have grown to a group of more than 800 women who learn from and support each other. Guerreras Latinas offers Spanish-speaking women a safe space to connect, access resources, services and opportunities to empower themselves through information. This strengthens their leadership to advocate for the well-being of their families and communities. They make transformative changes to community conditions that make it possible for everyone to thrive. The organization removes barriers to education and resources by offering classes, workshops, training, presentations, and providing childcare, hot meals, and transportation stipends to and from events.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we spoke with Guerreras Latinas founder and Executive Director, Yoana Molina Marcial, and Maximina (Maxi) Hernández Reyes, Sembradoras program Coordinator and current Oregon Food Bank Food Systems Ambassador, to learn more about how their work has built a network of strong leaders and supports Latina women and their families in and around Multnomah County.
When Yoana immigrated to the U.S. in 1998, she learned that access to resources and information in her native language made all the difference.
“Back in our countries of origin, we were fighting against poverty and against violence. And we come here and discover that there are better opportunities here. But if we do not have the tools to leverage them, it is the same as not having those opportunities.”
Misinformation about how her immigration status would impact her ability to access resources and threats of deportation made her fearful, but she soon learned she was not alone. Many other immigrants experience the same thing. So she began to share information to her community through word-of-mouth and flyers about the available resources. This is where, 25 years ago, the seed for Guerreras Latinas was planted.
“I realized that there were barriers, so a solution must be found. I can't just sit down and pity myself and say well, it is whatever, right? On the contrary — our legacy comes from warriors. We are Guerreras Latinas not because we are strong or invincible, but because we have been forced to become warriors. We are forced to cross the border. We are forced to work two or three jobs. And we are forced to decide whether to grow professionally or work to keep bringing food to our families' tables, having a roof over our heads and covering all of our basic needs. We, the Latina women are strong and I recognize that any woman is strong and can achieve a lot by herself, but I’m convinced that together with other womens, we are invincibles. I mean nobody can stop us.”
Yoana Molina Marcial
We, the Latina women are strong and I recognize that any woman is strong and can achieve a lot by herself, but I’m convinced that together with other womens, we are invincibles. I mean nobody can stop us.
When the Guerreras Latinas support group began, 15 members showed up to the first sessions. The next session, there were 18 women. And today, there are around 76 women who meet virtually every other week, creating transformational opportunities to thrive through building community and sharing information, ideas and resources. In these support groups, women have learned through workshops, classes and presentations, how to build healthy relationships with their children and partners, manage their finances, buy their first home, open a bank account, apply for medical insurance, how to invest, start a business, and so much more.
"The only thing we do is listen. Our community is filled with desires and a lot of dreams. I believe that by listening carefully to how they are repeated over and over again, we can help them turn those wishes and dreams into goals and connect them to resources and services to help them achieve them.”
While the support group has provided incredible emotional, social and practical support for the community, Guerreras Latinas has expanded to do even more for and with the community. In 2022, they received a FEAST grant from Oregon Food Bank to organize with Latinx families in East Multnomah County around the future of food security and food sovereignty for their community. Through community conversations, they decided to use the grant funds to advance and expand their gardening program, Sembradoras, which brings culturally-specific, fresh food to Latinx families. Ten families worked in the garden each season, located at an Outgrowing Hunger plot. Maxi and Yoana started hearing from these families that working in the garden helped with their physical and mental health. It also helped their children learn and get excited about growing their own food. But even more powerfully, the FEAST grant showed Maxi and Yoana how expansive and incredible their work can become when more community members and organizations invest in Guerreras Latinas.
“Everything they do empowers me. By helping them, I help myself. And, knowing that I am doing something positive for my community, for the world where I live makes me feel that my existence has a purpose. I feel privileged, grateful and blessed.”
Maxi Hernández Reyes
[Guerreras Latinas] helps you empower yourself. It teaches you and it is what I liked that you find: Guerreras Latinas are strong. They are women who are fighters, as we call them. And I am extremely grateful to Guerreras Latinas because I do not know what would have happened if I had not known about Guerreras Latinas. More than anything, Guerreras Latinas taught me to fly.
After co-leading the FEAST community organizing in 2022, Maxi decided to apply to become an Oregon Food Bank Food System Ambassador. Through this role she continues to manage and grow the Sembradoras garden.
For folks interested in joining Guerreras Latinas, Maxi says: welcome.
“You are in the perfect place to find a lot of opportunities. You can become a leader because whoever comes to Guerreras Latinas will not leave empty-handed. Because Guerreras Latinas connects you with other leaders and resources. Guerreras Latinas is a connection with the community, it is power. We are strong.”
And Yoana shares:
“If you want to know more about Guerreras Latinas, give us a call. Ask for us. That is it. Finally I would like to tell everyone that there is a lot of strength in being vulnerable. When you need help, ask for help. I can assure you that there will be a helping hand near you. Guerreras Latinas is one of those helping hands.”
To learn more about Guerreras Latinas visit https://guerreraslatinas.org/.