First-generation Mexican American activist Elsa Marie Collins straddled the border most of her childhood. Born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana in the 80s and 90s, she remembers an entirely different experience than the one many children and families are living today. Collins has always had dual citizenship and recalls happily traveling back and forth across the border for school every day, she remembers a community that celebrated both its Mexican and US roots. Her family’s way of life wasn’t an anomaly and for the most part, it wasn’t a problem. Today, the crisis at the border and the failing immigration system in the United States has changed that drastically.
“It does make me nostalgic for the border of my childhood,” she says. “It means something different now,” explaining that she and her family watched the shift happen slowly, but that everything seemed to change all at once. “It seemed slow, but fast,” she tells HipLatina.
Collins knows that her citizenship status has given her the kind of privilege a lot of Latinxs in America don’t have. The 42-year-old lifelong activist is firmly committed to using that privilege for good. Collins has utilized her network, which includes the likes of America Ferrera and Eva Longoria, to build communities dedicated to helping people.
Collins, a self-proclaimed “social impact strategist,” is the founder of the consulting firm The Ideateur, which caters to those in the sports, culture, and entertainment spaces hoping to make a difference on social issues. In 2018, she co-founded the organization This Is About Humanity which seeks to support both separated and reunified families at the border.
In 2021 the border experience a 20-year high with 1.5 million migrants arriving at the border, according to the American Immigration Council. Families separated at the border also grew drastically during the Trump administration with more than 1,500 children separated from their parents bringing the total from July 2017 to Oct. 2019 to more than 5,400, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This is About Humanity is focused on helping each of those immigrants at border – beyond the politics and statistics that can often them strip them of their humanity.
“It really is about focusing on ways to move the needle on issues that I care about,” Collins tells HipLatina. “Y “I’m raising three multi-racial children — they’re half Black, half Mexican — and I think about what my place is in this world, and I genuinely believe it’s to try to make it better for them and their future, and everybody else’s kids.”
This is About Humanity first came about when she heard that tent cities to house children separated from their families at the border were being built in Texas. She ended up participating in a massive protest attended by big names in politics including members of the group Voto Latino as well as Julian Castro and Joaquin Castro.
She then realized that she could take action independently and help the children at the border in the Tijuana areanwhere she grew up. She and her sister organized a donation drive that garnered support and they ended up having to rent a 25-foot truck to personally deliver the supplies. Inspired by the success of the event, she launched the organization and named it based on a sign she had brought to the Texas rally that read, “This is About Humanity.”
“Here we are four years later, and we’ve been able to raise money for asylum seekers, migrants, families separated, reunified families — all the way from Tijuana up to San Francisco,” she says. Not only is Collins using This is About Humanity to meet very real, practical needs of the immigrant community, but she’s also using it to educate and inform people about why immigration reform is crucial, and what each of us can do to help.
The aid coupled with education is the ultimate goal for the organization. “Trying to get people closer to the issue, more comfortable talking about it, and letting them see that it really is about humanity and people and families.” She emphasizes that those of us who haven’t been “materially affected” by political and social events and issues in the past five years are privileged, and that that can lead us to get stuck inside of our bubble, from which we can’t fully comprehend the often grave implications of some of the ways our country as a whole has shifted.
“I think the mission has evolved because it really is about giving people permission to take action,” Collins says. “It’s really easy to feel paralyzed in this world and so I think This is About Humanity is saying, ‘you can do something, we can’t all do everything, but we can each definitely do something.'”
She describes This is About Humanity as the entry point. The organization hosts in-person and drive-through donation events, holiday parties for reunited families and asylum seekers, back-to-school events, community events, proximate trips to the border to chat with asylum seekers, etc, in various cities. All of which gives people the opportunity to help in a hands-on, practical way, but also gives them the opportunity to learn about the issues faced by immigrants and asylum seekers directly from those experiencing them. That in turn, Collins hopes will inspire volunteers to take further action and embolden them to be a part of changing the narrative.
“The truth is, they’re women and children, and they’re escaping really horrible circumstances, and it’s letting people hear that for themselves, and then being able to talk about it with their network,” Collins says. “Whether their network is their kids — which to me, is hugely important — or their network is their platform that has many followers, it’s really about empowering individuals to then take that message to the people in their lives”.