Natalie Andrade, age 17 of Marshalltown, is one of two winners of the Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award. She is being honored for starting a Latina feminist organization called M.U.J.E.R.E.S. at her high school.
Growing up in Marshalltown, Natalie was surrounded by a strong Latinx community but she was also affected by the xenophobia circulating around the state. She credits her family for showing her how to overcome those barriers.
“My dad always told me ‘Tienes que echarle ganas' ('You have to give it your all'). We can always do more to better ourselves and our community—whether that involves our civil rights, our homes, or our jobs,” she said.
This philosophy has guided Natalie toward building community. She especially felt like there was a missed opportunity for many Latina girls in Marshalltown to exchange resources and ideas. She organized M.U.J.E.R.E.S., an after-school program and branch of AL Éxito, with a few other classmates.
The goal of the organization is to empower Latina girls in a culture that is too often permeated with toxic masculinity, she said. It gives them a space to discuss cultural trauma, advocate for progress, learn Latinx history, and build unity and creativity.
Natalie offers a specific example: “I see people struggle to prepare for college due to their family's status or circumstances. I felt like I was navigating the school system alone but M.U.J.E.R.E.S. helps me talk with other girls who are experiencing something similar.”
Moreover, M.U.J.E.R.E.S. is collaborating with Iowa State University students to help girls in the group write their college essays. These efforts will be paid forward because M.U.J.E.R.E.S. members will also create workshops for their classmates at Marshalltown High School to help write their college essays too.
Natalie is currently a junior and recently job-shadowed a legislator at the Iowa State Capitol.
"Being at the Capitol helped me learn about the laws being passed that affect my community," she said. "While I am undecided about what I want to do in the future, I want to continue creating projects that help others."
If you know a young person or group of young people in Iowa who should be nominated for the Mannheimer award, click here.