YOUth In Power - Andrea Gonzales

Image:    Andrea Gonzales

Image: Andrea Gonzales

Youth hold all the power in the world. We are always at the forefront of every movement imaginable. The incredible thing about young people is that we experience social issues in a completely unique way compared to our elders and older activists; we use these unique experiences to influence our strategies and make our organizing as a whole evolve. We are crucial to the success of movements.
— Andrea Gonzales

Meet 18-year-old Andrea Alejandra Gonzales - an unbelievably inspiring activist and organizer! She began her organizing work in her sophmore year of high school, and realized the power she held to hold people in power accountable.

My name is Andrea Alejandra Gonzales, I am a queer mestiza Peruvian womxn and I am 18-years-old. I have always been interested in activism and protecting the lives of others for as long as I can remember. I remember being about 4 years old and asking my dad about the Iraq and Afganistan war. I am really grateful for my dad introducing to activism and just general concern for humanity at such a young age. I started organizing officially when I was in my sophomore year of high school. My friend had me be the model for a photography project about gender equity, rape culture, and feminism. The photo was banned from my school and was labelled as pornographic; I was shirtless in the photos and had words painted on my back. I decided to protest against my school; I ended up on 3 news stations and lots of news outlets wrote articles about my friend and I. It was a super hectic week. I was able to collect 2,000+ signatures in attempts to get the photos back up in the school, but my school didn’t care. But on the bright side, the photography project was put up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on Capitol Hill in DC. This was my first opportunity to represent people in my community who are often ignored and from that moment on, I realized that my voice was powerful enough to influence people in power.

Andrea’s intersectional identity as a queer, indigenous, Latina womxn deeply influences the organizing and activism work she does to better her community. Gonzales recognizes the privilege she holds in certain spaces, and dedicates her work to empowering Black and Brown youth.

It took me an extremely long time to come to terms with myself and my identity, and I often still question myself. I live in the intersection of being mestiza, a womxn, queer, and many other identities. Although these identities often restrict me and place me in situations where I am on the receiving end of racist, sexist, and homophobic comments, I also have a lot of privilege. As a mestiza, I have to deal with the duality of being half white and half indigenous. My facial features are extremely ambiguous which grants me certain privilege in a lot of spaces. I also have privilege in the way I present my queerness. I am very feminine with my expression and I do not get questioned as often as my other queer friends and peers. Everyone holds privilege in unique ways, therefore, the work I do is centered on uplifting Black and Brown trans and cis girls, gender non-conforming youth, and non-binary folks. I am dedicating my work to abolishing all systems of oppression that impact those who fall on the most forgotten intersections.

Image:    Andrea Gonzales

Image: Andrea Gonzales

Since August 2018, Andrea has been working with Youth Over Guns, and is currently their Director of Operations. Youth Over Guns is an incredible youth-led anti-gun violence advocacy group formed by students of color following the Parkland school shooting; it ensures that marginalized communities, who are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, are given the resources/media attention that they often don’t receive following such disastrous events.

Youth Over Guns was founded shortly after the Parkland shooting after the founders realized that marginalized communities do not receive the same amount of resources or media attention after gun violence destroys our communities. The founders demanded that leaders and other stakeholders invest resources into local, grassroots gun violence prevention organizations that work towards reducing gun violence in communities of color. In June of 2018, they marched with thousands of New Yorkers across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise awareness. At the time of the march, I was still working with March for Our Lives New York. I am currently the Director of Operations at Youth Over Guns and I have been working here since August 2018. I truly found a home at Youth Over Guns because I know that from its birth, it has been fighting for marginalized voices. And we do it unconditionally. Many organizations are only just recently thinking more intersectionally, and some organizations only like to use the word “intersectionality” because it’s a buzzword. But at Youth Over Guns, I know my community is being represented because my community is represented in the leadership.

Often times, activist movements have a tendency to become “white-washed” because people of color are often not given the same resources and attention that their white counterparts receive. Andrea explains why it is crucial for Black and Brown youth to be at the forefront of these movements:

The white-washing of movements is a really large problem, and this has been happening since forever! The most part absurd about it is that most movements are started by Black and Brown folks, but they are erased as soon as a movement picks up media attention. It is so crucial that Black and Brown youth are at the forefront of the gun violence prevention movement (and almost every movement for that matter) because Black and Brown folks experience these social issues in a unique way. Black and Brown youth face situations through the lens of their intersection, which often intensifies the experience. I often say that we are experts in our own stories, and if we don't tell our stories, no one will ever know that our stories even exist. We need to ensure that Black and Brown voices are present and allowed to take up space. Most organizations have the tendency to speak on behalf of Black and Brown voices, but we are more than capable to speak for ourselves.

In youth-led advocacy, gaining adult allies is crucial to create inter-generational change and progress - here are Andrea’s tactics to gaining adult allies in organizing work:

I think a good way to gain adult allies is to table and hand out flyers, we are bound to find adults in spaces that are centered for youth. And if they aren't present in those spaces, there are various adult-led groups looking to support you! So don’t stress, adult allies are always in spaces supporting you and your work. If you're looking for guidance, I recommend you establish connections and relationships with adult community members by asking questions and asking for support. Not all community leaders will be in the capacity to help, but most of them are happy to do what they can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. inter-generational organizing is needed to create lasting change.

Image:    Andrea Gonzales

Image: Andrea Gonzales

Andrea has always challenged people in power and the destructive + oppressive systems that disadvantage Black and Brown communities. In order to do so, she’s had to be “defiant” in resisting the status quo. Her defiance is inspiring and world changing.

I like to think that my whole existence is defiant. I am existing in defiance of social norms placed on womxn. My family has the tendency to tell me how to dress when to speak and who to be and love. But I continue to be on stages and give speeches about my opinions and telling the world my identities all while dressing, however, I am comfortable. I am existing in defiance of ideas of what it means to be an activist. I am not the conventional image of an activist. I am soft-spoken and tender, but I do not allow that to be mistaken for weakness. I have realized I can lead and fight for my community through love and empathy. I am existing in defiance of the colonizers who took the land of my people. My people were not meant to survive; colonizers intended on destroying my culture and every last person, but here I am. I am doing the work of my ancestors; I am their wildest dreams. My journey has been questioned by my family and friends and it difficult to keep going when it seems like no one supports the work you do, but I have found love in so many spaces; it reminds me there is beauty in defiance. Being authentically myself is radical and will always be challenged; and as long as I am able to be myself unapologetically, I will be defying the barriers, boundaries, and expectations that have restricted my ancestors before me.