You are free, we are free, women are free.

Never feel inferior to anyone and trust your instinct. If you have a dream, follow it. Be grateful, never forget where you come from, who you are, who helped you”

Gabriela Alvarez Castaneda, a Femigrant from Guatemala, owner of Bula Arts and Culture, an educational and artistic institution

Gabriela Alvarez Castaneda, an artist, educator and activist, was born in Fiji Islands, but her family and heritage is  from Guatemala. They stayed in Fiji for 2 years and then traveled and lived around the world and went back to Guatemala when she turned 6.  In 2010, a guy proposed her and asked to come to New York with him. It was a really hard decision as she had her whole family and friends there, her ballet teaching career and a restaurant and cultural center business. She was also an activist back in Guatemala, but she decided to give their relationship a chance and changed her entire life by moving to New York. Unfortunately, the relationship didn’t work out and she was on her own within the next years. She decided to stay in New York as she didn’t want to go back to her country as a failure and with the immense support from her family and friends, she made it through the tough times of her life and emerged as a successful immigrant professional and entrepreneur.

Gabriela started her career in New York almost 7 years ago as a dance teacher and artist. She struggled a lot in the beginning as her foreign experience was not considered for any job in the US and she had to take different jobs just to survive. Her first job was 2 hours away from where she was living and she earned only $10.  There was a time when she had up to 9 jobs simultaneously from working in a studio, taking care of children to restaurants, a theater and other side things.

Gabriela has a passion for education and as part of her business in Woodside, Queens, Bula Arts and Culture, she provides ballet, visual arts and music classes in an after-school program as well as a holistic and artistic oriented day care for children 2-4 years old. In order to fuel her passion for being an activist, she also provides a supportive space for women to teach yoga and zumba classes as well as workshops to empower women by encouraging them to grow, talk and share their stories. She believes that women have to go through various struggles to achieve their passions and have a life with dignity, even if living in New York, where things appear to be safer and easier for women. Therefore, she loves working for her community as an activist and is also working on providing legal advice to immigrants and health and safety OSHA trainings for general industry, health and construction workers by providing them the right tools with the help of her business and life partner to better inform the immigrants about their rights and safety.

She also has a small space in her business where she gather people for intercultural exchange and arts promotion to appreciate intimate concerts, exhibitions and lectures from all around the world.

Looking back, she believes that she would have listened more to advices that came from her loved ones and less to the ones that came from other people’s selfishness, violence and fear. She let her self esteem touch the bottom during the hard times in NY but that made her rise stronger, although she wouldn’t like to go there again. She is glad that she had become an inspiration for other women and hopefully also for her previous students back in Guatemala to encourage them to never give up!

Gabriela believes that, “I am who I am because of what I went through, but it shouldn’t have been like that, we don’t need to be strong, happy and successful because we suffer but because we are, and we can and we should.  The only thing I would change will be to not hurt others during the process of my own learning and growth.”

She advises the young female immigrants to never feel inferior to anyone and trust your instinct. If you have a dream, follow it.  If you feel fear, get away and speak up, there will always be someone to protect you and someone you can protect or prevent by talking about your own struggles. Be grateful, never forget where you come from, who you are, who helped you, who encouraged you and who loved you. Be humble, but be proud as well. Never put your dignity in danger. Protect yourself and do your best to protect and take care of others. Forgive but don’t forget. Work hard but allow and encourage yourself to have a life with dreams, joy and rest. You are free, we are free, women are free. It’s ok to say no, it’s ok to say yes and it’s ok to want it all! Stay where love is.”

Editor: Sarah F. Anwar

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