In the North Carolina town of Chapel Hill, Lisi Martinez Lotz works night and day to rid her community of domestic violence. Having received a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Latin American History and Gender Studies, she cares deeply about social justice issues and strives to ensure that everyone is provided the resources they need to thrive. Also a busy activist and mom, she took time during her child’s Taekwondo lessons to speak to me on the phone about what she wants those in abusive relationships to know, why self-care is crucial to social work, and why we shouldn’t take vaccines for granted.
Where are you from?
I’m from Miami. My parents are Cuban and I was born in Miami, and I lived there until I was 19. Then I went away to college, and I’ve lived in lots of different places since then. I lived in Boston, Germany, [and] Phoenix, Arizona, and now I’ve been in North Carolina for the last 15 years. I came here for my graduate degree, and also my husband’s family is living here. It definitely feels like home. I love living in the Triangle and feel like I’m very much a part of the community. I couldn’t really see myself living anywhere but North Carolina in the near future.
What does your current work life consist of?
I work at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I’m the Response System Coordinator there, and what that means is that I work with communities throughout North Carolina for them to better coordinate their response to domestic violence. So I work with domestic violence agencies who head up teams in their counties of multi-disciplinary members, such as law enforcement, Department of Social Services, school counselors, prosecutors, all the different people involved in responding to domestic violence. I help them create the team and make system changes in their community. Part of that is also that I oversee the work that has to do with improving services for Latinos in North Carolina, and I work with a coworker at the Coalition that we just hired to oversee that project, as well.
What would you say is the hardest part about that kind of work?
That’s a good question. I think definitely making sure that you’re taking care of yourself so that you’re not feeling burned out by it, because a lot of it is very traumatic . . . so really making sure that you’re giving importance to self-care so that you’re able to do the work, and really being mindful of celebrating when good things happen and you have good consequences out of the work—that’s really important. When you can really see the impact of your work on the life of survivors, really taking a moment to say, “I’m contributing to a solution to end domestic violence,” and not feeling like you’re just working really hard every day and there’s no outcome to it . . . really, taking a moment to look at your successes is key.
So speaking of that, what makes you feel strong?
I feel really strong when I’m surrounded by other women who are passionate about the issues that they’re working on, who are funny, smart, interesting, well-rounded, and who can support me and allow me to support them and be a part of their community.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle that Latinas face in getting help for domestic violence in the US?
I think it really depends. Latinas are not one group; they’re very varied in their identities. And so obviously, if there’s a language barrier, that’s a really big issue. Immigration status can be a barrier too, for sure. Any kind of fear of reporting or calling the police or seeking help can be an issue, and also just not knowing what the resources available are or what their legal rights are. That being said, not all Latinas have language barriers or are undocumented. So I am really specifically speaking about that group, but I think also, if anybody grows up with any kind of cultural understanding where there’s unequal gender norms or inequality for women, that’s a barrier. If you live in a family where there’s traditional gender roles, it maybe normalizes unequal relationships that can often be abusive, and therefore it makes it look like your current situation is normal or like you’re supposed put up with it.
What do you want people who are in that kind of situation to know?
First, I think it’s really important for any victim of domestic violence to know that they’re not alone; they’re not the only ones going through this situation. They should speak to their friends, their family, their community. Sometimes those people can be helpful, and sometimes if you find people who maybe don’t understand you, know that there’s also community resources available for you. There’s a place that you can go to talk where the people there are knowledgeable on this issue and are just there to listen, not to judge, not to make decisions for you, not forcing you to get involved in the criminal justice system, but just to listen to you and to offer you options and resources. And that it’s never your fault, no matter what happens, nobody deserves to be hit, nobody deserves to be abused. It’s never your fault.
You also work with a vaccine organization, right?
Yes! I used to work for an organization called Vaccine Ambassadors, and now I’m on their board. This is a really great organization because they believe that safe healthcare should be equitable and that your ability to get vaccines shouldn’t depend on the country that you’re born in. We think that vaccines, which is a really basic health care need that saves millions of lives, should be something that everybody can access because people shouldn’t be dying of measles when we have vaccines that can save their life. We really believe in making that available to everyone. We work with the Pan-American Health Organization; we raise funds here in United States and give it to the Pan-American Health Organization so they can purchase vaccines at really reasonable rates for people in Latin America. So for me, it’s really important to give everyone equal access and opportunity, whether that be through health care with vaccines, or to help with language barriers or immigration barriers, because I think it’s important that people feel welcome and accepted. We are all a part of a human race working together.
Why do you think it’s important to give a voice to the Latina experience of being a Southern woman?
I’m an American and I’m a Latina, and I think it’s really important that those two identities be seen and known. It’s crucial for people to know that not all Latinas look one way, that not all Southern women look one way or act one way or feel one way, and that we really see a diverse view of what it means to be Latina and what it means to be a Southern woman. I think it’s just really important not to simplify what those identities are because they’re very complex.
This is the third in a series featuring Latinas and Latinx in the South by Isabella Gomez.
Isabella Gomez is a second-year Journalism student at Georgia State University. She is also pursuing a double minor in Film & Video and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. A native of Venezuela, she will probably speak faster than you can understand in either English or Spanish, but will happily oblige if you ask her to slow down. Apart from going to school, Isabella enjoys fighting the stigmas surrounding menstruation, binge-watching movies and TV shows, awkwardly dancing at concerts, and hula-hooping. Follow her on twitter @isabellephant
*photo provided by Lisi Martinez Lotz