Labor Studies Alumni Spotlight: Brenda Aguilera, Director of Community Transformation for Para Los Niños

by Guadalupe Guzman 

1. Can you tell us more about your current position?

I am the Director of Community Transformation for Para Los Niños, a Los Angeles based agency dedicated to promoting strong communities, powerful families, and excellent education so children and youth can thrive.

I am responsible for the oversight and development of First 5 LA’s Region 1 Best Start Place-Based Effort. I direct the initiative and collaborate with a team of partners to support the capacity strengthening, development, and promotion of systems change work through resident and agency partnerships both regionally and locally. Regionally, I direct and support the vision and framework of systems change work along with the development of strategies and supports that align the local work regionally. Locally, my team and I strengthen the capacity of organizations to better partner with parents, residents, organizations, government agencies, faith-based organizations, businesses and others involved in First 5 LA’s outlined communities of Best Start East LA, Metro LA, South El Monte / El Monte and Southeast LA Community Partnerships. I am also an instrumental thought partner in Para Los Niños’ Innovations II Initiative, funded by LA County’s Department of Mental Health, in Supervisorial District 1 that acknowledges the need for mental health support as power is built in communities.

2. What made you want to join the labor studies program?

As an undergrad student I had the opportunity to find a pathway to bridge my two biggest passions: the Arts and Social Justice. I was a Cultural Studies Major in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. It was here that I met Professor Janna Shadduck-Hernández who was instrumental in helping uplift the intersections of art, activism and the labor movement throughout history and present. She was also intentional about integrating opportunities to put theory into practice by coordinating opportunities for students to partner and work directly with community organizations and organizers across Los Angeles on advocacy campaigns and projects. Through these opportunities I learned about the Labor Studies Minor, from Professor Shadduck-Hernández, other Labor Studies Minor students and organizers who were alumni, and recommended that I to add it, but I did not know how to go about it. They all recommended that I speak to Elizbeth “Liz” Espinoza, Student Advising Officer (SAO) II for the Labor and Workplace Studies Minor. When I met Liz, she immediately made me feel like I belonged in the program, walked me through and supported me through the process of declaring myself a Labor and Workplace Studies Minor. She was able to connect the theory and practice in most of the courses I completed, that involved the arts and activism, at UCLA and abroad, to the minor. Her genuine support helped me seek another minor as well, in Latin American Studies.

3. What about the Labor Studies Minor had the most impact on you?

The most impactful aspect of being a Labor and Workplace Studies Minor, was having the opportunity and privilege to partner and strategize directly with some of the most marginalized and exploited workers in the service sector, such as day laborers, household workers, janitors, child care providers, maintenance workers and street vendors, to learn first hand about their personal experience to be able understand how

policies and are designed to either exploit or protect them. This was helpful, as it allowed me to then be able to collaborate on projects that would uplift their stories through data, put together photo projects as well as other platforms that helped shed light on the inequities those communities faced, and finally, to hold institutions and systems accountable to shift their policies to ensure the creation of better conditions for workers, their families and communities.

4. During your time at UCLA, were you involved in any campus activities on campus or within your community?

Yes, I was involved in a couple of activities outside of campus and abroad. Through the Community Scholars Program, I had the opportunity to do an internship with the Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) and supported the development and implementation of Mobiles Voices/ Voces Móviles, a virtual platform designed for immigrant and low-wage workers in Los Angeles to write and document their own history, and to uplift the stories of those who are marginalized by traditional mass media. At IDEPSCA, I also supported the development of Native Green Gardening: A cooperative comprised of IDEPSCA day laborers and household workers, who completed a green gardening training certification program in sustainable landscaping for the City of Los Angeles. The cooperative was created with the purpose of providing the members long-term workforce opportunities.

I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Mexico City for six months at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). While there, Professor Shadduck- Hernández connected me with the opportunity to support “Una Mirada Positiva,” a traveling, participatory photo exhibition that included fourteen HIV positive women and men who were capacitated to document their daily experiences living with the virus. This project was a collaboration between UCLA, Make Art/Stop AIDS and a Letra S.

5. Do you have any advice for graduating seniors?

I can’t imagine what it is like to be a senior in the midst of a pandemic. However, I will share that many of us in the non-profit world, including public institutions and foundations, are adapting and shifting significantly, while concurrently, funding opportunities are beginning to open up that will help us change systems so that they are equitable and accountable, to better serve our communities as part of the recovery efforts. Reach out, stay connected with one another and outside partners, and continue to build community and network. Once I graduated, and I didn’t feel ready to jump out into the word. The communities I became part of and created while at UCLA helped me to continue to explore, grow, lean on, and connect to other opportunities that brought me to where I am today.