Latinx Heritage Month: A Q&A with Kristine Rodriguez

Handle: @heykristine16 
Owner of @GrlCollective
Location: Downey

Can you share a bit about your background?
I am Mexican American, born and raised in Southern California. My family and I, for the most part, grew up in Fontana, but we moved around a lot in different parts of California.

My mom grew up in the Rosemead area and my grandparents actually grew up in Boyle Heights. I now live in Downey with my husband.

Idea behind Grl Collective?
It started off in 2017 when I testified against my abuser and I started to struggle with my mental health. I was trying to find a way to help myself and turn this bad thing into something that I could use to give back.

I heard this quote from Debra Messing on her podcast called The Dissenters, and she said, ‘When you're depressed, help someone.’ It spoke to me. So, I started volunteering with The Sambhali Trust, a non-profit organization, women empowerment program in India. I stayed there for 40 days and volunteered in one of the boarding homes. I would visit the (girl) students after they came home from school, and help with tutoring, workshops, and play games and tutor them in their English.

Their parents often sent them to the boarding schools because in their villages, most of these girls didn’t have access to running water, or their home was too far from school, or there was an affordability factor.

I was already working on my Grl Collective website when I visited, and began to raise money by making jewelry and selling it to friends and family.

But when I got back, that was when I launched my business and created an Instagram account – at that time we were donating a dollar from every earring purchase to fund the education of the young girls that I met in India. Now 20% of proceeds goes to the students.

What compelled you to work with this organization specifically?
My friend told me about it, and when I was browsing the website, I saw they had a ‘no bad touch program,’ to educate girls on sexual abuse –– I knew this is where I was supposed to be.

We now go back every year, and I take other volunteers with me. In 2019, there were five of us, including me.

The designs behind the products you make?
The handmade jewelry got grandfathered into what is still Grl collective today. A lot of the designs I initially created, I partnered with an artisan in India to basically recreate –– for me to outsource the jewelry I created made the most sense. I knew it was not scalable for me to make all the jewelry myself, and keep up with demand.

Now we have sweatshirts, t-shirts, pens, notepads and other products. All of the designs are still my creation and concept. But I will hire and work with women, predominantly; we try to hire women of color to execute some of these designs.

With the Lucha design, as well as the United against Trump one, we worked with a local graphic designer named Michelle Munoz. I also have hired people through Instagram.This guy Bruno, who I work with from Brazil, is a great lettering artist. I am also working on a mixed media print with a female artist from Lebanon.

“Your struggle is my struggle” - message with the phrase and imagery

This image was initially inspired by another piece of art that I had seen. It was two women and one was holding a sign that said Black Lives Matter, and the other woman was holding a sign that said, No Human is Illegal. One was a Black woman, and one appeared to be a Latinx woman. After I saw that, I thought it was so powerful. Being a part of the Latinx community, and realizing that the Black community and the Latinx community intersect, is such an important part of our culture.

Obviously, what's been happening within the Black community in America is just completely wrong. I was trying to find a way to relay that and the image really spoke to me. There's such power in intersectionality, and being able to be there for each other, as well as stand up for each other's causes.

I thought it would be really cool if it were two hands holding each other, but not just regular hand-holding. I wanted it to almost look like they're raising their fists together and holding each other up. So, that's why the hands are in the position that they're in –– I wanted it to appear caring, but also powerful.

When it went viral in May, it was obviously really awesome to see how much it resonated with the community. A lot of Latinx celebrities started sharing it, which was awesome –– including AOC, Pitbull and Becky G.

Can you share your initiative for voting?

We did a campaign back in February of this year around the Primaries. We wanted to address how important it is for women to vote, and how important it is for women of color to vote.

Really educating the younger demographic on how important it is, has been such a joy of mine; I think that sometimes people feel so intimidated by politics. I receive a lot of messages like that in Grl Collective, specifically around voting.

I'm glad, though, that the community of girls feel comfortable enough to come to me about that kind of stuff. I've always tried to make our platforms accessible and really have open, normal conversations about politics and about social justice.

We talk about it on TikTok too with mainly our Generation Z audience. With Instagram, it's mostly Millennials, but obviously the Latino vote is very important everywhere. I don't want anyone to feel like it isn't, or, believe the idea that voting doesn't mean anything because it does.

Even post-election, I'm not going to stop talking about voting. Being able to discuss what affects communities of color and still hold leaders accountable, even when we feel like we've won or we've regained some momentum, is important. It's never over.

Any current or future collaborations?
Mainly prepping for Holiday - this past month we did a collaboration for Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month and released an Erika Muñequita Mug in collaboration with Echeri Ceramics in honor of my sister who passed away in 2006 –– that was super special. We literally sold out of the mug within 24 hours so I am going to do another pre-holiday launch so that people could buy it for Christmas gifts. Definitely next year we will be looking at how we can broaden the scope of building our community and partnerships. I also won a $20,000 grant from American Eagle –– I am a Change Maker now so that will be a year-round partnership including panel discussions, blog posts, and hopefully future collaborations with merchandise.

Who influences you?
AOC – the way that she inserts her power and intelligence in a predominantly older, white space is so encouraging to me. Being able to see somebody that looks like me and my community, is really awesome. I definitely think she's doing what she can and speaking up for her community and is also still one with the people –– she will often do lives on Instagram and answer questions people have.

Selena is also a huge influence - more so an icon and representative of what it means to be Mexican American. Our community was longing for it, and still does –– that’s why she's such a big part of who we are even now after her passing. I think being able to leave an impact like that on so many people, especially little Latina girls, is just something that is so special to me.

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