• Liz Venerable

Latina Girls Code: Dare to Challenge, Dare to Believe

Photo courtesy of latinagirlscode.org

"I just didn't see myself in that world yet until I was actually making things. It's surreal," said 17-year-old Andrea Herrera, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents. Herrera is just one of the many girls learning to code thanks to Latina Girls Code (LGC). LGC is an organization working to eliminate the diversity gap for girls, specifically Latinas, interested in entering the tech world.

LGC wants to spur girls’ interest in technology through education and resources. The organization provides mentors, access to hardware and digital tools as well as internships through various programs and events throughout the year.

In an interview with the New York Times, LGC Chief Strategy Officer Kenneth Watkins said, “Hispanic girls excelled in technology programs, but there weren’t enough organizations catering to their specific needs, like bilingual skills.” In 2014, he and Stephanie Castillo started LGC to cater to these needs.

Kenneth Watkins is a mobile/web developer, speaker and instructor from Chicago. Stephanie Castillo is from Plainfield and she graduated from the University of St. Francis in Joliet with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and social justice.

Photo courtesy of lostweens.com

LGC offers training in 3D-printing and creating wearable tech. So far, the program has trained 83 Latinas, most of which are third-generation, in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other computer programming languages.

LGC provides tangible education to those particularly in disadvantaged areas. However, working with these disadvantaged communities comes with unforeseen challenges. In his interview with the New York Times, Watkins stated, “We now have to do an Aurora thing and a Joliet thing — we have to do two different events, because they just can’t travel so far.”

Watkins also spoke about how many Latinas are discouraged from attending certain Chicago workshop locations because the students and their families are afraid of being targeted by immigration officials or the police while traveling to the city.

"So, you have all these things confronting you, you have all these obstacles, and sometimes that's why you can experience importer syndrome — feeling unworthy to do these things," said co-founder Stephanie Castillo to MSNBC.

LGC provides computers, mentors and classes for Hispanic girls in Joliet. The organization sets up internship opportunities, hack-a-thons and multi-week programs to show young women different paths they may take in a technology career. You can find more information about Latina Girls Code at latinagirlscode.org.

Photo courtesy of PBS

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