Latinas living in the Midwest can often feel lonely and isolated not seeing their own culture reflected around them. A small group of women has been working to change that by creating Midwest Mujeres, an online magazine and podcast for Latinas to share their stories and to connect with other Latinas on a digital platform.

“It all started from two Latinas who wanted to support each other as they dedicated themselves to wellness,” founder Araceli Esparza tells Madison365 in an interview at Madison Sourdough on Madison’s east side.

Esparza, who is also the founder of Wisconsin Mujer, a strategic marketing, outreach, and engagement consulting agency that crafts exclusive connections, said Midwest Mujeres grew out of the lack of diversity representation in online magazines, specifically for Latina women 30 years and older.

“We were talking about how there were not enough spaces for us to think about wellness and health through a Latina lens,” Esparza says.

For years, Esparza wanted to build an online community that would break the cycle of cultural isolation that comes from being a Latina woman in the Midwest. She started chatting with Lisa Peyton Caire, founder of the Foundation for Black Women’s Health, about the movement Peyton Caire has started for African-American women’s health in Dane County.

“Lisa told me, ‘Do it in a way that you want to do it. Do it in a way that you feel will be impactful for your community. There are spaces for everyone,'” Esparza remembers. “That conversation stuck with me for a long time and then about a year ago, it really started to gain momentum.”

Supporters of Midwest Mujeres with Araceli Esparza: Back row: (l-r) Saran Ouk (CEO and founder of ConNEXions), Faustina Bohling (Diversity and Inclusion Manager at American Family), Maria Lopez (La Movida and UCAN Madison Hip Hop Best 2017 Radio Personality of the Year). Lopez will be interviewed on the next Midwest Mujeres podcast along with Hedi Rudd.

The online magazine began with a conversation over coffee to talk about wellness and the lack of cultural sensitivity to the needs of Latinas on so many different topics. Esparza decided to start a Facebook group with local Latinas from Dane County and surrounding areas.

“I said to myself, ‘I belong to many Facebook groups that are very successful and I know how this goes and I know what to do. Why don’t I start my own?

She started a Facebook group with Fanya Valentina around wellness and the platform grew through the Facebook group where women would talk about where to buy foods, how to use simple indigenous ingredients, or share tutorials on how to use certain makeup products.

“I started meeting with the women from the group in person and they started to provide some content and it snowballed from that,” Esparza remembers. “At this point, I was really excited and I thought to myself – this could be an online magazine. This could be a podcast.”

The podcasts are in English and the content in the Facebook groups are in Spanish.

In the first episode of Midwest Mujeres, host Esparza speaks to Marcela Kyngesburye, a Pranic Healer and so much more. The two talk about co-mothering and the intersectionality of spirituality and la vida. In the second podcast, two local teachers from Madison – Beatriz Aguilar and Rhianon Leaver – talk about their Latina roots from Mexico and Puerto Rico, respectively.

“I am a strong believer that we need a place where we can share experiences as we navigate and strive to keep alive our Latin roots, cultures, food, traditions, music, etc., says Aguilar, co-food editor/contributor for Midwest Mujeres. Aguilar is also a professor at Edgewood College. “As a Latina, I also need a place where I can share and feel support when experiencing the challenges that being an immigrant implies. Midwest Mujeres provides this and more for me. It helps me feel that I am not alone. I learn something new all the time. I am really thankful for the hard work to create and keep this group connected.”

In the second Midwest Mujeres podcast, two local teachers from Madison – Beatriz Aguilar and Rhianon Leaver – talk about their Latina roots from Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Esparza says that when she has a good eight podcasts under her belt, she will officially launch the online magazine.

“I’ve been connecting with micro-financers in Minnesota and Milwaukee and soon in Green Bay and northern Wisconsin and will record podcasts in various places in the midwest,” Esparza says. “That’s why it’s called ‘Midwest Mujeres’ because I really want to encompass the space of the midwest. I have ambitions of growing with the public relations with Crystal Farms and Sassy Cow … the reason why I pick out those people is that they are marketing to Latinos through their dairy products and cheeses and milks, yet there is no face. That’s what I bring in – Latino women who cook who are savvy, who are intelligent, and who are conservative and liberal, who are teachers, lawyers, cleaners – they run the gambit in society.”

A Gofundme that Midwest Mujeres has started will cover the costs or research and travel and the so many costs of production.

“The website is live right now, but when we launch, I will have the whole magazine structured out,” Esparza says.

For Midwest Mujeres to get off the ground, Esparza says that they will need help in branding, public relations, content development, mentorship and of course with resources to get to the other Latina mujeres of the state of Wisconsin.

“We are looking for editors right now who will take the content – which we have tons of – to put in on the website,” she says. “Through these months, I have been coaching the contributors on how to write micro-blog posts. So we have a lot of content in the Facebook group for every day of the week.”

Esparza says that it is so important for many Latinas to break that isolation of long, cold midwestern winters and to have a place to come together online where they can talk about health, food, and culture and more.

“Eventually, my long-range plan is that the Racine ladies see this website and they start a Facebook group on health and wellness in their Racine Latina community,” she says. “And I can teach them how to do their own thing. My long-range plan is to digitally train other people in various communities to do the same thing.

“Midwest Mujeres would be something everybody could come back to and they could submit into this website,” she adds. “I really envision having a council and having five regions putting in content. I’m looking for another Araceli – I know she’s out there. She could be in Des Moines, Iowa; Green Bay; or Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I’m looking for that other Araceli and I know she’s out there and she’s also dreaming of her own magazine.”

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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