This spring, Michelle Villanueva – a high school senior – will graduate alongside Lydia Barerra, her mother.

Both are members of Adelante Mujeres, an Oregon-based organization that empowers Latinas to lead in their communities. Adelante Mujeres guided each woman along her academic journey, while offering a strong support network and a space to feel heard outside the classroom.

Adelante Mujeres
Michelle Villanueva with her mother, Lydia Barerra, at their family home.

For Villanueva, seeing her mother pursue her GED is an inspiration that gives her strength to realize her own academic success is possible. For Barerra, seeing her daughter transition from high school to college assures her that her other children will be able to see a similar future. 

Barerra tells Villanueva, “If you go to college, you are going to set the example for your brother and sister, so they can keep fighting to go to college.”

Visualizing such a future can be a barrier for many prospective first-generation college students, for whom a college campus can feel inaccessible and unwelcoming.

That’s why Adelante Mujeres takes girls as young as third graders to visit colleges, making places of higher education feel familiar and within reach.

Through a partnership with The Coca-Cola Company and the University of Washington, Adelante Mujeres has been able to expand these efforts. In November, Adelante Mujeres brought 30 Latina high schoolers from Oregon to visit the University of Washington’s Seattle and Bothell campuses. For some, it was their first time seeing an out-of-state school. For others, it was their first exposure to a college campus.

More than an opportunity to tour both campuses, these visits provided students an opportunity to see what their own futures might look like. Students spoke with Coca-Cola First Generation Scholars – students granted undergraduate scholarships by Coca-Cola – about ways to lighten the financial burden of higher education. They heard from the daughters of migrant workers, who discussed how building a strong Latina community helped them navigate an unfamiliar college space. They heard from first-generation college graduates who went on to teach at those very institutions of higher learning.

Packed with self-reflection workshops, the experience also provided a forum to reflect on how their Latina identities have shaped their journeys and how stereotypes will not limit their successes.

Lucila Gambino, a youth facilitator with Adelante Mujeres, believes such reflection in a space where participants feel heard helps them to develop “personal poder” – personal power.

“The chicas feeling heard celebrates their identities and voice and encourages them to use it in the best way they can,” Gambino explains. “Education empowers. We’ve learned that educating women and girls helps the community as a whole story.

Adelante Mujeres

For Villanueva, the experience was a reminder of how close she is to achieving her dream of higher education.

“It’s right there," she concludes. "I just need to open the door.”

For additional information, contact info@adelantemujeres.org or (503) 992-0078.