My name is Lilith Ferreira and I’m an 18-year-old college student who is also part of the Digital Promotoras program at Las Fotos Project. I have an interest in photography, especially photojournalism and aim to be an advocate and active participant in changing communities for the better. Photography is a way I can express myself that makes me feel safe, so photojournalism makes my heart jump with excitement because it perfectly mixes advocacy with my passion for photography.
In our Digital Promotoras class this semester, we covered the many ways diabetes and obesity affect the community of Boyle Heights. Through our photography, we addressed systemic issues caused by policies and companies, such as fast food restaurants and advertising agencies, which perpetuate unhealthy living conditions and hurt working-class communities in Los Angeles. So what, specifically, are the issues that hurt our community?
We had a chance to meet and learn from Shirley Ramirez, who as a high school student had worked on advocacy campaigns in Boyle Heights and around Northeast Los Angeles. She talked about the amount of money that goes into advertisements for McDonald’s, Coca Cola, and Starbucks, among other corporations. Their estimated advertising budget is in the billions annually.
Meanwhile, organizations promoting healthier living and eating habits receive a mere fraction of this —just a few million dollars annually. The impact was documented by UCLA Center of Health Policy researchers who found that “35% of Boyle Heights adults are obese compared to 21% in both Los Angeles County and California.” Their findings also support evidence of a connection between the average income of a neighborhood and the kinds of businesses that are available there.
According to this same research from the UCLA Center of Health Policy, Boyle Heights has a higher than average percentage of low-income households and unemployment (62% and 15% respectively) compared to the rest of LA County (44% and 13% respectively).
In my personal experiences walking through the streets of Boyle Heights, I have seen how fast food restaurants fill up each block. On every street, one can expect to find a McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, or other fast food chains with small liquor and convenience stores also scattered throughout the community. However, suitable markets and grocery stores with a variety of healthy produce are difficult to come by and are often not within walking distance for most residents. What makes this worse is knowing that communities of color, such as Boyle Heights, are often the targets for this kind of advertising.
Proyecto Pastoral is one of the many Boyle Heights-based organizations that Digital Promotoras teamed up with this semester. Proyecto Pastoral is a non-profit that has many initiatives catering to the needs of the Boyle Heights community, including helping the local youth.
My fellow student Eva “Jimy” Jimenez, mentor Yesenia Varela and I had the opportunity to go to their Feria de Salud, or health fair. Here, we got to witness and document our subject, Mirna Murillo, in the field doing her work as an advocate and community leader. At the health fair, they provided information on their organization and pamphlets to raise awareness of mental health issues.
“Las Fotos Project’s Digital Promotoras program gave me a sense of empowerment and a safe space to express myself. I’m thankful for Las Fotos Project providing me with the opportunity to grow in the photojournalism world.”
The organization has a well-rounded field of programs and opportunities. They are very youth-oriented and their vision is to create more accessibility to health and wellness resources in addition to job fairs. Proyecto Pastoral also provides a space for residents to become more involved in their communities. The space itself is critical to Boyle Heights because it is run by community members who are well aware of what’s lacking in Boyle Heights and who are dedicated to solving these issues.
This semester-long project has provided me with the opportunity to raise awareness within my community and put being a promotora into practice. Las Fotos Project’s Digital Promotoras has taught me how to use photography as a way to bring about change in my community and in Los Angeles.
My goal with this photo project, and with any of my photo projects that relate to advocacy, is to provoke a feeling of urgency in people and motivate them to make a change in their community. This project has also empowered me and helped me build my storytelling tools.
Las Fotos Project’s programs are inclusive of young girls who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to go out and be advocates. However, these girls — myself included — are probably the best people to be Digital Promotoras because we live in these communities. These are our stories, too.
The class has offered me insight into the impact of obesity and diabetes and has introduced me to community organizations, such as Proyecto Pastoral, which are trying to combat these issues. I felt a lot of emotions throughout this project. At first, I was shocked at the statistics but also saddened that this is our reality.
Las Fotos Project’s Digital Promotoras program gave me a sense of empowerment and a safe space to express myself. I’m thankful for Las Fotos Project providing me with the opportunity to grow in the photojournalism world.
Las Fotos Project’s Digital Promotoras program is made possible thanks to the support of the USC Good Neighbors Campaign and The California Endowment.