AUGUST 6, 2004 / 6 DE AGOSTO 2004
Girl Empowerment Festival
Festival de arte para el empodermiento de las jóvenes

On August 6, the Laredo community hosted its first bilingual Girl Empowerment Arts Festival, a gathering for girls and young women ages 12-22. The event addressed issues such as teen pregnancy, dating violence, sexual assault, body image, rape culture, and media literacy through art, poetry, and song. 

El día 6 de agosto, la comunidad de Laredo presento su primer Festival de Arte para el Empoderamiento de las Jóvenes, una reunión para jovencitas de edades 12 a 22. Algunos de los temas de esta conferencia: el embarazo de adolescentes, la violencia entre novios, el asalto sexual, el auto-estima femenino, y la cultura de la violación.


Below are the workshop titles followed by the presenter biographies:
Acting for Social Change: Transformation through Peer Theatre

This highly interactive workshop session will introduce participants to various performance methods to stimulate dialogue on and increase awareness about relationship violence issues including sexual assault. The training methods used by these university students are adapted from techniques developed by the Brazilian Activist, Augusto Boal.

This is a workshop in which you, the audience, have an opportunity to mold and change the outcome of a situation. Using Forum Theatre techniques, PAUSE actors will perform an “improvisational” scenario that portrays interpersonal violence.  The facilitator will stop the skit at a point of “tension” and ask what might be done differently to change the outcome of the scene. Audience members will be given the option of replacing an actor in the scene and restarting the action to change the outcome.  Individuals will always have the option to pass if they are uncomfortable about actively participating. Afterward, the actors will answer questions “in-character” about their perception of the scenario and their motives. They will then come out of their characters and answer questions and provide more information about relationship violence and sexual assault.

Learning objectives include: 

  • Demonstrating innovative approaches to actively engage an audience in discussing issues of relationship violence and sexual assault. 

  • Exploring the idea of “spectactors” (instead of the traditional idea of spectators and actors) to educate one another.  This idea stems from the belief that wisdom comes from our shared lived experiences.

  • Exploring the diverse intersections of race, class, age, gender, and sexual orientation to understand that we cannot have a “single model” approach to discussing interpersonal violence in our society.

Writing To Heal / Escribiendo para sanar
Debbie Okrina & Leticia Manzano, Houston Area Women's Center

In this workshop, participants will learn about journal writing and how it can help them deal with difficulties they are facing. The presenters will give information on how to use journal writing as a safe, healthy tool for healing. Participants will make a journal during the workshop and do a writing exercise. It is not necessary to have any specific skills or writing experience in order to enjoy this workshop.

Learning objectives include:

  • Participants will learn how to use journal writing as a coping mechanism to deal with violence or other forms of trauma.
  • Participants will learn when it is important to seek outside help in dealing with trauma.
  • Participants will learn about safety in journal writing and sharing.
  • Participants will receive journal prompts that can help them go deeper in journal writing.
  • Participants will create a journal that they will be able to take with them to practice journal writing on their own.
El respeto, el imagen corporal de la mujer y los medios de comunicación
Alma Gonzalez, Healthy Start, Laredo , TX & Laura Zárate, Arte Sana, Austin, TX

This interactive workshop will include media literacy exercises and the rating of popular songs in Spanish and English, for rape culture messages.  The issue of body image will be studied as a means to reaffirm body ownership and respect, ideals that are central to sexual assault risk reduction. Adolescence is a difficult transition for both girls and boys.  Many girls begin to experience depression, self-doubt and hopelessness at adolescence, often as a result of issues related to their bodies, their sexuality and limiting gender roles. The pressures to be "desirable," plus a serious lack of basic reproductive information, contribute to premature pregnancies of many underage girls who fall prey to adult male sexual predators.  By identifying girl empowerment messages in songs this workshop will aim at validating dating equity, personal boundaries, resiliency, and survivor empathy.

Learning objectives include:

  • Introduce how media influences the body image of girls
  • Distinguish between an instrumental vs. an ornamental body view 
  • Identify rape culture themes in music
  • Define sexual harassment & acquaintance rape
  • Identify girl empowerment themes in music
  • Identify strategies for addressing sexual victimization and advocate on behalf of survivors
Dating Violence / La violencia entre novios
Susana Rivera, S.C.A.N Inc., Laredo, TX

This interactive workshop will support the Girl Empowerment Arts Festival by not only educating young women about what dating violence is, but also teaching them about the dangers of acquaintance rape and how to protect themselves from dating violence. The presenter will identify warning signs of potential violence in a relationship and will also identify methods for young women to protect themselves from an abusive partner.  Participants will learn about the resources that are available to them in the even that they are victimized, or if they want to speak to a counselor, or if they simply want to learn more about the topic.

Learning objectives include:

  • What is dating violence?
  • Acquaintance Rape
  • What are the warning signs of an abusive relationship?
  • How can you protect yourself from dating violence?

Presenter Bios

Celina Aguilar
Ms. Aguilar is completing her bachelor degree work in Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.  She plans on going to graduate school for psychology or social work in about a year.  Originally from El Paso, Texas, Celina is devoted to creating awareness about sexual assault issues.

Alma Gonzalez holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Bicultural Studies from University of Texas at San Antonio. Ms. Gonzalez is a Case Manager at Healthy Start Laredo where she spends most of her time servicing under-represented residents in under-developed colonias along the U.S.-Mexican border. Ms. Gonzalez spends most of her time educating and counseling colonia residents to become better parents by teaching them how to develop positive parenting skills. Ms. Gonzalez is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Texas A&M International University.

Leticia Manzano is the Youth Outreach Counselor for the Houston Area Women's Center’s Children’s Counseling and Education Program.  She provides counseling to youth survivors of dating violence, sexual assault and witnesses to domestic violence in various arenas including schools, community service agencies, juvenile detention centers, and homeless youth shelters.  She also does in-service training on related topics to teachers, counselors, social workers and other members of the community. Ms. Manzano is currently the coordinator Youth Service Providers Network in the Greater Houston Area.  She was formerly the co-chair for the Children’s Advocacy Task Force of the Texas Council on Family Violence and a presenter at the 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 annual conferences, as well as a presenter at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault annual conferences for 2001, 2002 and 2004.

Roberta Morales presently works with the Domestic Violence Unit of the District Attorney’s Office of Webb and Zapata Counties. Her repertoire includes over 20 years experience in designing and implementing bilingual, interactive programs on a range of issues to include: Victim Services, Domestic Violence/Prevention and Intervention, Addictions, Health Issues, Life Skills, Cultural Sensitivity, Internalized & Institutionalized Oppression Issues, and Empowerment Issues, to name a few.

Her knowledge, unique insight, and passion regarding encouraging… Respect, Compassion and Justice for ALL... has been instrumental in providing individuals, from all walks of life, with realistic, practical, effective solutions, when dealing with life’s challenges.

Roberta has been recognized by local, state, national and international entities for her contributions as a “Change Agent” in recognizing, acknowledging and taking a pro-active stance, in continuing to eliminate, “ALL” forms of oppression, violence, disrespect, injustice, fear, and apathy from our communities.

She considers her evolving wisdom and knowledge to be a direct result of accepting total responsibility for “self” and continuing to explore the possibilities of creating a world where Respect, Peace, and Justice are the standard.

Debbie Okrina is the Manager of Children’s Counseling & Education at the Houston Area Women’s Center, where she has worked for six years. Debbie provides individual and group counseling for children and teens that have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence. She also provides community education for teens on these issues. Debbie has been a presenter at statewide conferences on many topics including working with children and teens, teen sexuality, using poetry and writing in counseling, and addressing white privilege. Debbie is currently the co-chair of the Allies for Children and Teens (ACT) of the Texas Council on Family Violence. She received a Masters Degree in Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin.

Susana Rivera holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Psychology from Texas A&M University at Kingsville, and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Texas A&M International University.  Ms. Rivera is also a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern.  She has spent the last three years serving as the Program Director and Counselor for the Sexual Assault Services and Information Program at S.C.A.N Inc.  She spends much of her time educating the community about the different forms of sexual violence, and how to stop it.  Ms. Rivera is currently pursuing her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision from St. Mary’s University.

Sean Tate is a humanities junior and the Assistant Ombudsman at the University of Texas at Austin. He has been a professional actor for about 12 years and has done work in commercials, theater, TV [E.R.], and movies [Richie Rich], etc. In the future, he hopes to continue to graduate school for law and business masters. Mr. Tate is also a member of the Voices Against Violence Project.

Emily Timm is a University of Texas Senior studying English and Business. Emily has worked with the VAV Project for 2 years now, as a committee member, Student Coordinator, and volunteer. Last spring, Emily played the survivor in VAV's Mock Trial about acquaintance rape. She believes in education for prevention and thanks
everyone for being here.

Laura Zárate is the Founding Executive Director of Arte Sana and has contributed to the creation and evolution process of one of four agencies recognized in April 2003, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a model program for under served survivors of sexual violence.  Laura is a Chicana/Latina advocate, training specialist, and published author from Texas with over twenty years of experience in violence against women (and girls) risk reduction work.  Laura has reached thousands of youth, adults, victim service advocates, allied professionals and promotoras, through workshops in English and Spanish, on sexual and intimate partner violence via various state, national, and international conferences and training events.  In 2004, Laura was one of five recipients of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's first national Award for Outstanding Effectiveness in Raising Awareness and Promoting Prevention of Sexual Violence. She was recognized for "her dedication in promoting bilingual resources and the impact of her work in sexual abuse prevention."

The Survivor Art Exhibits
La Frontera Shelter staff will create community awareness quilt from the fabric squares decorated by the girl participants. The 'alcochado de consciencia' will be utilized Laredo victim advocates groups to raise awareness about violence against women.

Another opportunity for the girls to express themselves will be offered via the Clothesline Project, in which girls will be offered different colored t-shirts and fabric markers to share a story about, and/or make a statement about violence against women.

The Clothesline Project was created by The Cape Cod Woman's Agenda in Massachusetts in 1990. The group decided to establish its' own tribute for women after one of the members viewed a traveling exhibit about the Vietnam War Memorial. These women were convinced that the public needed to know that during the same time that 58,000 men were killed in the Vietnam War, 51000 women were killed in America by the men who supposedly loved them. The question was 'Where is the memorial for these women?' The Clothesline Project is that memorial for women survivors and for women victims of violence.

The significance of the color of the shirts are as follows:

  • White - for women victims who died because of violence.
  • Red/Pink - for women survivors of rape or sexual assault.
  • Beige/Yellow - for women survivors of battery or abuse (verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, financial, harassment or psychological)
  • Green/Blue - for women survivors of child sexual abuse or incest.
  • Lavender/Purple - for women attacked because of their sexual orientation.

While the color code is not rigid, it does provide visual clarity of the extent and types of crimes committed against women. For more information go to

Sister Rosemary will share some Laredo region silhouette art during the festival as an example of survivor advocacy art. To learn more about the Silent Witness National Initiative that began in Minnesota in 1990, and about the original 27 witnesses who were honored go to

Arte Sana’s international survivor art exhibit will also be on display. Through a Women of Destiny and Arte Sana collaboration, the Corazón Lastimado: Healing the Wounded Heart survivor art exhibit will also serve as an initial invitation for local residents to create a Laredo exhibit that will coincide with the Women of Destiny’s first anniversary and Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

Girl Empowerment Arts Festival Laredo Planning Committee:
Arte Sana (art heals), Catholic Social Services, District Attorney’s Office – Domestic Violence Unit, Health and Human Service Commission, Mercy/Casa de Misericordia, Women of Destiny, Healthy Start, AAMA – Buena Salud Residencial, The South Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (STCADA)

Partial funding for this event was awarded to Arte Sana via a mini grant from the Texas Department of Health, Office of Border Health, Healthy Border 2010 Initiative. Founded in 2001, Arte Sana, is a nationally recognized 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to eliminating access barriers for under served victims of sexual and intimate partner violence.

Arte Sana would like to recognize and thank the following sponsors:

  • Gateway Community Health Center

  • Laredo Holiday Inn Civic Center

  • Mercy Ministries of Laredo

  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

  • H.E. Butt Grocery Company

  • Webb Co. Food Bank

  • J.C. Penney

  • Office Max

  • Charlie Corona Restaurant

  • Coyote Creek

  • Justice of the Peace, Juan Antonio Guevara: Prect. 3 - Zapata County

Personal care door prize donors:
Intrigue Beauty Salon
Studio 55
Laredo Beauty College
Star Beauty Supply

Partial funding for this event was awarded to Arte Sana via a mini grant from the Texas Department of Health, Office of Border Health, Healthy Border 2010 Initiative. Founded in 2001, Arte Sana, is a nationally recognized 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to eliminating access barriers for under served victims of sexual and intimate partner violence.


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