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Hispanic Heritage Month: Survivor Spotlights

During Hispanic Heritage month, ChicagoCAC celebrated voices of well-known Hispanic and Latinx survivors of child sexual abuse with social media spotlights, and we wanted another chance to share their stories. We wanted to show that experiencing abuse does not limit anyone’s potential or achievement. While the people we highlighted are open about their abuse history, we want to remind you that sharing any experience is a choice everyone makes for themselves.

America Ferrera

America Ferrera is an American actress, producer, and director of Honduran heritage. Ferrera began acting at a very early age in school productions. She was so committed to her art that in high school, she babysat and waited tables as a teenager to pay for acting lessons. She made her film debut in “Real Women Have Curves” in 2002 at the age of 18 and has starred in multiple movies and television shows since. America won a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award for her role in the TV series “Ugly Betty” in 2007, the first Latina woman to ever win a Primetime Emmy Award in her category.  This year, she will make her directorial debut with I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, produced by Netflix. 

When Ferrera was 9, she was sexually assaulted by someone close to her and her family. In telling her story, she speaks about how she lived with shame and guilt, thinking that it was her fault. Because of this experience, she is a strong advocate of the #MeToo movement calling for all women to stand up, break the silence, and protect the next generations of girls to come. She is also a founding member of the Time’s Up legal defense fund. Ferrara is also very outspoken about politics and a big supporter of the Voto Latino and She Se Puede platforms which advocate and encourage for the Latino and Latina communities to get out the vote. She was the opening speaker for the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, and spoke at the Families Belong Together protest in 2018.

Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is an American singer, songwriter, and actor of Mexican heritage. Demi, who recently announced they use they/them pronouns, began acting at the age of 8 and also had an early love of music. Throughout their childhood and adolescence, they performed in multiple Disney Channel shows and movies, released multiple records, and had multiple chart-topping albums and singles including the platinum and international hits, Skyscraper and Heart Attack. Lovato has won multiple MTV Video Music, People’s Choice, and Latin American Music Awards for their unique style of mixing pop, R&B, Soul and their Latin roots.

Just this past year, Demi shared their story of childhood sexual abuse. At 15, Demi was sexually assaulted by someone working on set with them at Disney Channel. Lovato describes being in a relationship with their abuser at the time and told them no when pushed to have sex, but that didn’t stop the assault. Despite their outcry to various adults, they had to continue working with the abuser daily. As a result, Demi speaks about their struggle with addiction, depression, self-harm, and anorexia/bulimia throughout their adolescence and early adulthood. 

Through their challenges, Demi remained open with their fans, inviting the world into their life as they grow to meet the different challenges they face. In March 2021, Lovato released a documentary entitled “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil” where they share their story. In doing so, they can speak out for others who share similar struggles and advocate for those who feel they don’t have a voice. 

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a Latina American drag queen of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent who was an activist and supporter of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the 1960’s and 70s. She became a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front after she participated in the Stonewall Riots in 1969 at the age of 17 after the raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan. She also established STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with friend and fellow drag queen, Marsha P. Johnson, which empowered and supported gay, trans, and genderfluid youth in the 70s. In addition to her activism in the gay and trans rights movement, she was also a staunch supporter of racial, economic, and criminal justice reform.

Sylvia was born in the Bronx, New York, and had a difficult childhood. Orphaned at an early age after her father left, and her mother died, Sylvia was raised as a boy by her grandmother. Before age 10, she experienced sexual abuse from a family member, and her grandmother, disapproving of her sexual preferences and feminine behavior, including wearing makeup to school, was often physically abusive. Sylvia ran away from home at the age of 11, and throughout her adolescent years she was trafficked and experienced long periods of homelessness. The drag queen community were the ones who took her in and where she was able to proudly assert her identity and orientation. 

Sylvia passed away in 2002, and in the same year her memory was honed by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), a legal aid organization that “works to guarantee all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression regardless of income and race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence”. The organization offers access to legal services as well as leadership and advocacy skills courses. While Sylvia struggled with mental health challenges and addiction throughout her life, her fiery spirit continues to inspire generations of LGBTQ+ people and their allies.

Jorge Ramos

Among Latino and Hispanic households, Jorge Ramos is an extremely well-known news anchor—in fact, he’s considered the best-known Spanish-speaking news anchor in the US. Ramos, who was born in Mexico, anchors multiple broadcasts on the Spanish-language news channel Univision. He has covered many major new events of the last four decades, and has won numerous awards, including 10 Emmys. 

Ramos was educated and began his career in Mexico, but he realized there were more opportunities across the border. At age 24, he began hosting a news show on KMEX-TV in Los Angeles, and never looked back. He eventually became an American citizen in 2008.

Ramos has often used his position as news anchor to bring visibility to Latino issues. In 2012, he quizzed President Barack Obama and Senator Mitt Romney about their immigrant policies during a news forum, and during the 2016 presidential race he tried numerous times to interview Donald Trump and questioned Latino support of Trump throughout the election. At times, he has been in dangerous positions because of his work. In 2019, he was held in Venezuela and then deported because of an interview he did with Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan President, that Maduro disagreed with.

Raised in a Roman Catholic family, Ramos is outspoken on the issue of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests. He sees the church as covering up and enabling widespread abuse to continue, rather than addressing it by making changes to protect children.

While Ramos was never sexually abused by priests, he has written about extensive physical abuse he and his classmates experienced at the hands of three priests in his Catholic school. “It is lucky we weren’t sexually abused,” he says. On the issue of sexual abuse at the hands of priests, he has written editorials and interviewed abuse survivors, raising awareness and bringing cases out of the darkness and into the light.

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