Meet Comadre Luna, the feminist collective supporting Philadelphia’s Latinx community
Comadre Luna is a feminist collective supporting the Latinx community, and as the scope and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear in spring 2020, the collective moved quickly to support its community with actionable information through podcasts, a WhatsApp group, and more.
“We started realizing that the levels of anxiety in women were increasing tremendously. There also was a need for reliable information and sources for mutual-aid support,” Comadre Luna founder Ana Martina told me.
“So our thought was to create a format that is easy to access that they can just listen to and not need to sign into any different platforms,” she continued.
We spoke with Martina, Sara Giraldo, and Cristina Arancibia from Comadre Luna to learn more about their work, which was supported by the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund’s Philadelphia COVID-19 Community Information Fund.
Martina, originally from Mexico City, centers her work primarily with independent media and community radio.
Giraldo, a lawyer from Colombia and currently a law student at Temple University, came to Comadre Luna as a yoga instructor and took on a more significant role to help with the project.
Arancibia, a visual artist from Chile, works with Comadre Luna to assist with graphics, posters, and its website.
Here is a condensed and lightly edited version of our conversation:
Kyra Miller: Give me an overview of your project and the thinking behind it.
Ana Martina: We submitted a project for the production of two podcasts. When we started in 2020, when COVID hit, we were no longer able to meet in person with the community we had been working with before. Actually, when we connected with Sara it was the last in-person gathering on International Women’s Day, March 8. After that we began transitioning into online gatherings and trying to offer emotional support to the women that we were working with before. We started realizing that the levels of anxiety in women were increasing tremendously. There also was a need for reliable information and sources for mutual-aid support. So, we started gathering information that was being shared from various organizations to share on social media and a WhatsApp chat we created with the community.
Not everyone is able to be in front of a computer, and some people struggle with using a computer. Mothers are very busy, some are left without jobs and have to take care of homeschooling children.
So our thought was to create a format that is easy to access that they can just listen to and not need to sign into any different platforms. That’s how we started putting together the first podcast, La Canasta. The format is five or ten minutes with compiled resources including mutual aid, COVID testing, schools, emotional support, mental support, domestic violence, rent, and more. We compiled and put all of this information together not just in a way that was accessible, but in Spanish. We realized that most of this information was only available in English. A lot of our work came from language justice in our community.
Then we started working on the second podcast, which is a longer version of La Canasta, called La Cacerola. For this podcast we wanted to go more in-depth about the experiences we all were facing including COVID and racial inequalities. With the riots this summer there started to be a lot of division in Latino communities which is why we started talking about important issues like anti-Blackness within the Latinx community, gentrification, and understanding the history of racism in Philadelphia.
We also proposed a series of workshops to support digital literacy skills. A lot of the women we were working with were struggling with the transition into online spaces. The goal with these workshops was to supply women with basic skills to be able to access services for women everywhere.
Cristina Arancibia: It is very important for women to be able to take these workshops to get technology help. These women are very grateful for these workshops, and it is amazing that we can do this to help women. We also are doing lots of work with graphics. I think visualisations are very important.
Miller: What did your work look like pre-COVID?
Martina: We started with putting together a print magazine to talk about the challenges of immigrant Latinx women in Philadelphia. On the last page there is a directory of services in Philadelphia for immigrant rights, legal services, domestic violence, reproductive health, and more. That’s when we started to work together as a collective. These were resources for our in-person gatherings to spark discussion. Some of the stories were very personal, as they were written by many of us in the collective and other women in our community. We, as many other women, have gone though different challenges in our lives – being questioned by authorities, being survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence, struggling to find jobs in this country because of our accent. All of these situations have brought us together. Before COVID, we were having in-person gatherings and political discussions about what it means to be an immigrant woman in this country. We also looked for different ways to provide self-care and collective healing.
Sara Giraldo: I made it to the last in-person meeting to bring basic exercise movements to a group of 30 Latina women. We are also a very open-gendered group as well. We were all sharing struggles we encountered as immigrants and sharing food and herbal tea at La Puerta Abierta, Philadelphia-area organization that provides emotional services to young immigrants. We realized we needed each other. I fell in love with Comadre Luna at this moment. I knew I belonged.
Miller: What was the transition into COVID like for you all? How did it impact your work?
Giraldo: After COVID we started holding virtual women’s circles and created a WhatsApp group for those women. Thankfully we connected three weeks before COVID so we had all recently connected. We all shared about our fears of when we were going to be able to see our family again and things like that.
I get emotional talking about this, because it truly was a blessing. It was very beautiful. A lot of us were losing jobs, encountering domestic violence, and as mothers with children at home it was very challenging. And then we got Knight-Lenfest’s support!
Martina: All of our members tend to come in and out, but they all heard about the Collective through someone else. Starting with La Canasta, we started being more consistent with the podcast and producing on a biweekly basis. The first episode of La Cacerola, which is our hour-long podcast, talked about being in the pandemic as working mothers and having to deal with the emotional distress of our kids, and demonstrating against injustice. We discussed how we all are responding to the pandemic.
It was all to both give hope, and also reflect on the injustice we were experiencing. Right when the episode was released, the riots began and everything changed again. We continued reporting on what was happening and continued being on the streets.
We also started talking with our communities about growing up in Kensington as a Puerto Rican and experiencing racism. This story came right after the right-wing Fishtown vigilanties were harassing community members. So, we decided to report on the history of Fishtown and the deep-rooted racism toward the Puerto Rican community. Community members who lived through that told us stories about what they and their families have been through, the murders of their community members, and other stories of the past. We felt that was really important to share widely with the Latino community. It is something that you don’t really hear about often.
We started to report on stories of redlining, as well, to uncover the truth about this division and economic inequalities in the city. We believed it was important to go really deep into the roots of that racism to start exposing it and understanding the struggles of communities.
We also put together a statement of support to Black lives when the uprisings began. It was something that we were very public about.
Arancibia: It is very important to know the history. Education is the best way to change. It is the base of everything. We are making a big connection between our webpage, workshops, talking about history. Our work is very holistic.
Miller: What type of feedback are you all receiving from the community?
Martina: Members come to the Collective through listening to the stories we put together and end up getting more involved. The piece on the history of racism in Fishtown got a lot of feedback. Lots of people didn’t know about this history, crimes that have happened against the Puerto Rican community, harassment minority kids have to endure in school, or how gentrification happened in the area.
Giraldo: The podcast has been super powerful and educational. In general, this has been very empowering for the members of the Comadre Luna. It feels that more people who hear the podcasts listen to it when they are cooking and end up sharing it with their families. It’s a very warming way of telling stories, and the more people listen to us the closer they get to our community. They end up asking to participate more and begin to feel supported by us.
Miller: Okay, you’ve done all of this incredible work through this moment of COVID-19, how do you envision continuing this work into the post-pandemic world? What is next for you all?
Martina: That’s a good question. We are wondering when we will be able to get together in person again, but women have expressed through a survey that they want more training in the empowerment space and digital literacy sessions. We very intentionally created a safe space for all different types of women. They said to us, “Yeah, we feel more free to be open about our struggles with technology because men have said that this is not a women’s place.”
So we are continuing forward with these conversations and the podcast. We want to continue the things we are doing and go back to in-person gatherings when we can.
Giraldo: We definitely have been having conversations about this now that the Knight-Lenfest grant is coming to an end. We don’t really have the funds to do the podcasts or magazines at this point. So we have been talking as a group on how to continue to support the Collective. We all agree that we want it to continue and hopefully try to find more funding. We want to continue supporting this because it is going well.
Martina: The Collective has become a way for women to find support from one another. The word “comadre” in Spanish means your best girlfriend. You go to their house when you are feeling down or struggling, when you need someone to watch your kid, when you are going through something. That is your comadre, the person you share with and trust. Comadre Luna allows us to talk about the struggles we endure as Latino immigrants. We talk about the isolation we sometimes feel being by ourselves and having the moon there as the only other witness that sees this struggle. The moon also has a lot of feminine connection with our cycles, so for us, the best words to describe this feeling is Comadre Luna. We are all for each other.
The Collective has been an opportunity not just to do work for ourselves and our own healing, but with our community. The importance Sara mentioned about funding is because we have been modeling our work after sustainability. We wanted to move away from the volunteer model because we realized that just allows the most privileged people to participate. We want to have those who will be the most impacted by the work. It is very important to have this piece of sustainability as we continue with the work in the Collective.