In one of her first stories, Cecilia Garza covered a labor rights movement that took her to the steps of Wisconsin’s capitol. The effort would later amount to sourcing changes for university-branded clothing at her alma mater. Photo / Cecilia Garza
Newspapers are a permanent fixture on the Garza kitchen table – whether piled high in one corner or sprawled across the top as Cecilia’s mom and dad trade sections back and forth.
“My parents are religious news junkies,” explains Cecilia with a smile. “Usually clearing the table for food meant clearing it of newspapers … and seeing stories cover a kitchen table – it made an impression on me.”
At 7, Cecilia told her mom she wanted to be a “professional reader” when she grew up, punctuating the declaration by burying her nose in a book. By high school that interest evolved into newspaper and yearbook editor roles, and then a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.
One of the most rigorous programs in the country, MU’s School of Journalism wasted no time initiating their would-be writers. Cecilia vividly remembers the early morning pitch meetings – students hurling story ideas that the editor advanced or shot down in seconds. It was intimidating, but also a great way to learn.
Over the course of those four years she wrote many pieces at MU, but there was one that stood out. The United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) was fighting the university – trying to get them to source their branded college clothing from fair trade, anti-sweatshop conditions. The administration was resisting, the story was largely untold, and Cecilia was hooked.
“They took me by both arms and dragged me through the entire story,” says Cecilia, recalling the five-month investigation and writing process. “These people really wanted to talk to me.”
She accompanied USAS to the halls of Wisconsin’s state capitol, attended marches and meetings, interviewed workers and organizers, and went toe-to-toe with tight-lipped university administrators. When Cecilia finally broke the story, it gave USAS the extra momentum they needed to seal the deal with the university, which agreed to start carrying an ethically-sourced clothing brand called Alta Gracia.
As for Cecilia, the experience reaffirmed this was what she wanted to do – tell stories that make a difference in the world.
“I was overwhelmed, but in a good way,” she says. “This is what it’s about – talking to these people who would not have anyone to talk to otherwise.”
“I don’t think most journalists realize that they can be a part of something that causes that change. A lot of journalists just don’t get that opportunity, and I was so fortunate to have that as one of my first real experiences. It completely set the tone of where I want to go.”
A 7th generation Mexican American, Cecilia’s desire to tell the full story – raising up those who are too often overlooked – is rooted in her upbringing.
Her mom comes from a family of community leaders and organizers in south Texas who are deeply involved in social movements for Hispanic people. She now owns a business in Dallas that trains teachers so they can better support and be more inclusive of English Language Learners.
Cecilia’s father, on the other hand, was quite disconnected from his Mexican heritage. His parents were physically reprimanded and held back for speaking Spanish in schools, and quickly assimilated out of necessity. They moved to predominately white suburbs in Corpus Christi and didn’t speak Spanish at home because they didn’t want Cecilia’s father and his siblings to face the same obstacles.
Cecilia grew up between these two worlds, questioning whether she identified with her Mexican roots or her U.S. nationality. And at times she took flak from both cultural realms.
“Being the token Mexican, or being a ‘white girl’ even though I’m not,” explains Cecilia.
Regardless, she says, it gave her a unique perspective.
Living in Texas, she also witnessed the culture clash on a larger scale. Cecilia’s high school was 89% Hispanic, yet much of the decision-making power in her town was held by white men. This played out in the form of proposed laws that effectively allowed racial profiling – enabling law enforcement officers to ask anyone for identification without cause.
The influence of these combined experiences became clear as Cecilia’s path as a writer emerged. In the later half of college, she decided to pursue a second major in Latin American Studies in addition to her journalism degree and continued to seek out social justice stories in her work at publications like Yes! Magazine and now at Social Venture Partners.
“What’s so exciting about my role at SVP is that it’s just wrought with people and stories that can never be made up,” says Cecilia. “They are completely original and also moving and powerful and have a lot to say … our role is to elevate these stories of change and impact.”
“It’s hard. It can be stressful and it’s emotional, and it takes you on this roller coaster. But at the end of the day it’s about knowing what you’re doing is right. It may not make a huge change. But you’re doing something. And if all I can do in life is one thing, I’m glad it’s telling someone else’s story.”
More about SVP’s new communications team
Cecilia Garza is part of SVP’s newly formed communications team. As SVP’s staff writer she will work alongside our new graphic designer, Michael Castle and communications director, Willow Russell. Together they are taking a new approach to SVP communications – joining forces with the Network Office to create an expanded team that will serve both organizations.
With additional writing and design expertise in-house, SVP will be able to shine a brighter spotlight on the work being done every day to make our community and our world a better place. We are delighted to welcome Cecilia to our team and look forward to sharing more stories with her help!
Learn more about Cecilia (including such fun facts as her go-to comfort food and things that give her the wiggins) in her bio.