The “Estamos Aquí” campaign aims to highlight Latin American stories ahead of the midterms

Victor Mariachi in a scene from the video for the song he wrote for CFL-Georgia ‘Estamos Aquí’ releases the election campaign. (Photos courtesy OffThaRecord)

The stories of the over one million Latinos living in Georgia are complex and too important to be used simply to tick a box. Instead, their stories of drive and success despite significant struggles can be used to shape Georgia’s future.

It’s a message that Gigi Pedraza, executive director and founder of Latino Community Fund Georgia, hopes to amplify as part of the organization’s nonpartisan Get Out the Vote campaign. The nonprofit is working to support Latino and immigrant communities, whose votes could play a pivotal role in November’s midterm elections.

“If stories drive culture and culture drives policy, that’s how we believe we can create a Georgia that feels like home for everyone,” she said.

This vision of Latinos stepping into the spotlight to tell their stories is at the heart of LCF-Georgia’s “Estamos Aquí” campaign which recently kicked off with a screening of its “visual centerpiece”, a video featuring local rapper Victor Mariachi and directed by Samantha Ramirez-Herrera, founder of Atlanta-based creative agency OffThaRecord.

LCF-Georgia is also hosting the “Estamos Aquí” – “We Are Here” – festival on Saturday, September 10 from 3-8 p.m. at the historic Fourth Ward Amphitheater. Mariachi will perform the song live as part of a lineup of Latino artists. Latin American food and businesses will be highlighted. Voter registration desks will also be installed. And the stories will be shared.

“I came to Atlanta 11 years ago with a dream as an undocumented Latina immigrant, not really knowing what my life was going to become,” Ramirez-Herrera said during a panel discussion after the screening of the “Estamos Aquí” video on August 18 at Resonant Studios in South Atlanta.

“And one thing I’ve noticed is that stories are what change the world,” she said.

Mariachi, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, wrote a song called, of course, “Estamos Aquí.” The video was filmed at numerous locations in Atlanta, including familiar spots like Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway and Plaza Las Americas in Lilburn.

An activist wearing a mask like those worn by Mexican lucha libre wrestlers, flexes at the Georgia State Capitol in a scene from the ‘Estamos Aquí’ video.

Many of the local Latino residents in the video — a mother reading to her young daughter, a father standing next to his disabled son, an entrepreneur pushing his paletería (ice cream) cart, an activist posing in front of the Georgia State Capitol — are wearing colorful clothing masks like those worn by luchadores, professional lucha libre wrestlers popular in Mexico and throughout Latin America.

The masks symbolize the struggles that many Latinos endure to access jobs, health care, education, citizenship, civic participation. But they also represent the passion and joy of overcoming obstacles and creating a better life.

“I think of the sacrifice my parents made to clean houses and my family doing construction work…despite not knowing the language or understanding American society,” Mariachi said.

The people depicted in the “Estamos Aquí” video are pioneers, like his parents, he said.

“And they inspired me that too, because in the genre of rap, there aren’t a lot of Mexican Americans who are well known,” he said. “Watching them navigate their way has been my experience.”

Too often, however, the stories of Latinos and immigrants are told through a lens that focuses only on struggles while ignoring victories, said Michelle Zuluaga, civic engagement manager for LCF-Georgia.

A man wearing a lucha libre mask with his ice cream cart makes an appearance in the “Estamos Aquí” video.

“I think it’s important for us as Latinos to take and create spaces, because the spaces that are created for us are the sad stories, the traumas,” she said. “And frankly, that’s not the community I know. We are an amazing community. We are dynamic.

Ramirez-Herrera added, “Even though our community is known for always fighting, I want us to also be known for the vibrancy, the music, the food and the culture, all the beautiful things that make our community as well.”

Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman was at the “Estamos Aquí” screening because he said he wanted to make sure Latino communities are a priority for city officials.

“Historically, I think, in Atlanta, we haven’t been that good on Latino community issues,” he said. “We haven’t had as much sophistication around these various issues.

“An organization like LCF-Georgia that works through politics, culture, community development…is a great bridge,” he said.

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