Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference.
Flor Itzel Martinez Zaragoza is an entrepreneur, human rights activist and innovator and the creator behind the Instagram account @flowerinspanish. Flor is founder of Celebration Nation, a nonprofit dedicated to serving, informing and empowering the Latinx/Indigenous community through education, nutrition and resources. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and came to the U.S. at three years old with her family and now resides in San Jose, California, about 50 miles south of San Francisco. She grew up undocumented which led her to advocate for immigrants and farm workers. Flor is currently working on an innovative educational program that will provide accessible education to marginalized communities across the nation through blockchain technology.
Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?
Though I have met many impactful women, the women that have had the greatest impact in my life are going to have to be my mom and my sister. My mom, Martha Zaragoza, is the first to introduce me to advocacy work, and she did it by leading by example. She taught me how to use my voice for others. At just 12 years old she had me speaking at important district meetings, translating the testimonies of mothers whose children were being neglected by the school district. At 12 years old I realized the power of my voice, and I haven’t stopped using my voice for others since. My mother taught me the beauty of being a service to others, she taught me the importance of education and to advocate for people who need our fearlessness. The other Latina/Indigena who has had the greatest impact in my life, is my younger sister, Victoria. She’s my inspiration. Victoria has taught me a lot about myself, she listens, she cares, she’s the best critic, she lets me know when I need to work on something, but she also applauds me in every accomplishment. These women have impacted my life tremendously and continue to help shape me into the woman I am today.
If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?
To be honest I don’t have a Latina icon that I’d like to meet who is no longer here. But I’ve had the honor to meet and speak with Dolores Huerta multiple times and even march alongside her. Dolores is an iconic Indigena/Latina who has done and continues to do such impactful work for our communities. It’s important to give people their flowers while they are still on earth with us, and I’m so honored to have been able to do that with Dolores. Dolores deserves an endless garden. She’s a true Latina icon and someone who continues to make the world a better place. Como dice Dolores, ¡si se puede!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There’s so much advice I’ve received in the past, I’m always a listening student and every day is an opportunity to learn or try something new. But for this question I would like to share some business advice I received that helped shape me into the business woman I am today . Someone once told me “to let go of control”, it was during a time I was feeling burnt out, I was trying to take on too much work and it was taking a toll on my productivity. I was told that the best thing I could do is to delegate work. I know it sounds so simple but I’m very careful with who I put on my team so it was easier said than done. But I was willing to try it. Also, I was under this mind set that no one could do what I needed done the same way or with the same passion. The best thing I did was to delegate work to others and learn to let go of being in control of my businesses. This change of thinking led me to being comfortable in starting my nonprofit Celebration Nation, which is a public benefit entity that practices community based decision making and is completely community led.
If you could pursue a career in an industry other than your own, what would it be and why?
If I could pursue a career in an industry other than my own, I would be a college professor, or a dance performer. When I was in college there was a time when I was a paid in-class mentor for Chicano Studies and was also teaching Hip Hop courses for extra college credit. It wasn’t long until I realized working at any school would require a work permit, and I thought about how my mom has a Bachelor’s in Economics and hasn’t been allowed to utilize her credentials here in the US since we came from Mexico, all because of an inhumane immigration system. And well since I’m undocumented, I couldn’t risk the uncertainty of DACA and I refused to depend on this country to allow me to work to support myself and my family. I had to find a solution, I had to be innovative.
For the other part of my answer, I’ve always wanted to be a professional dancer, when I was doing competitive hip hop I fell in love with the stage, with the lights, with the audience. I already had a love for dance and music, so when I was introduced to performing I knew it was something I wanted to do everyday. Now that I’m learning our history as Indigenous People of the Americas, I’m realizing how important dance was in our communities. My love for dance is my form of self expression, it’s also a way our ancestors told stories and prayer. There’s something about expressing yourself through motion and music. I could tell you my story in the form of dance if I wanted to. Maybe one day I’ll still pursue this side of me that many haven’t met yet, I think we all have artists inside us, but for many of us survival takes over some of our dreams, and that doesn’t mean we don’t end up pursuing them, maybe it just means we try to reach them in our own way. For example, I became an entrepreneur. I started an event company where I get to dance because there’s always music, I get to have stages and an audience. Not only that, I’m able to provide safe spaces for others to express themselves through dance, while hiring the best production companies to bring the best music systems.
Also, back to my desire to be an educator. Within my nonprofit Celebration Nation, we’re currently working on launching our Metaverse, it includes a university and museum where myself and others will be able to teach in a decentralized educational system, while providing accessible education to thousands of youth across the nation.
Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?
The first people that believed in my entrepreneur dreams and goals were my parents. My parents brought us to the U.S to have more opportunities, and so when I told them I wanted to pause college to start my first company, I didn’t know how they’d react, but they were incredibly supportive. I grew up watching my parents be entrepreneurs themselves, it definitely inspired me to follow in their footsteps. My dad gave me the confidence of being an entrepreneur, I saw him have his own business in a place where they wanted our people as the workers and not the owners. Well he did both, and it was truly inspiring to watch. His work taught me that I can follow my dreams and work towards my own company instead of working on someone else’s dream (company).
What do you wish more people understood about what you do?
Something I’d like more people to understand about what I do is that being a full time volunteer is not easy, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but there’s a reason I’m doing it this way. You see our Latino/Indigenous communities have been historically oppressed, silenced, betrayed, you name it. Even now our communities still lack resources, funding and accessibility, we are still very much being oppressed in many different ways. Our communities haven’t even begun to heal because we have yet to see immigration reform, higher wages, equal-opportunity education, food security, etc. We keep being fed these fallacious promises of change, and get let down every time. Due to this our communities have a hard time trusting entities and individuals that make promises to our communities, we have so much trauma that makes us skeptical and doubtful about anyone that claims they care.
So the reason I’ve been a volunteer for my nonprofit these past two years is because I wanted to earn trust before earning a salary, I want my community to know that I’m really here for them, it’s personal. I’m here to claim everything that’s been taken from my people, I’m here to be their voice, I’m here to teach the truth about who we are, I’m here to educate my people, because knowledge is power and because when we learn our truths we are unstoppable. I’m here to represent my people, to show the youth what they are capable of, no matter what this society labels them. The work I do doesn’t have an hourly rate, the work I do is priceless, I wouldn’t even know what my salary would look like, you can’t put a salary on emotional labor, I’d rather volunteer my time. Time is money, therefore I guess you can also consider me a philanthropist. Haha.
What motivates you?
A lot of people motivate me. My family and the families we serve motivate me. The farm working mother of four who takes the bus to our food bank every week, motivates me. The volunteer who has a lot going on at home but finds a second family in our volunteer community, motivates me. The undocumented and/or brown youth who need representation, motivate me. Also, the inequalities in our communities also motivate me. They motivate me to do more, to go harder and stop getting in my own way of the possibilities. Motivation can come from anybody and anywhere, you just have to pay attention to the moments that make you want to do more, or even the moments that remind you you’re on the right path and doing the right thing.
How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?
Many things led me to the professional path I’m on now. Growing up undocumented meant there was a lot of uncertainty with what things I was allowed to do. I was able to apply to DACA the first year it was available, but I knew it wasn’t a permanent solution. I knew if I didn’t take control of my future, someone else would. So I decided to become an entrepreneur and take my own chances at being able to support myself and my family. After my first business was successful, I started the paperwork and structure for my second business, Yeeorganics. It’s a food product company, and that’s when the pandemic hit. This is the time I realized our community was being greatly impacted by the pandemic and I didn’t see enough nonprofits focusing on assisting our Latino/Indigenous community directly. So I had to choose if I was going to focus on my new for-profit venture or if I was going to dedicate my time and resources to starting a nonprofit for my people. That’s when the nonprofit entity, Celebration Nation, was born.
What is your greatest professional achievement so far?Personal achievement?
My greatest professional achievement so far has probably been creating and growing the foundation of my nonprofit, Celebration Nation. Running a non profit is running a business, period. It consists of staying in compliance year round with the required legal paperwork at the federal, state, and local level. You need to file a lot of paperwork and have structure. You need to have a fundraising plan that will keep the entity going, hire contractors and vendors, manage logistics, and it requires having people management skills. There’s so much more that goes into this work but it’s definitely taken me to the next professional level. We utilize social media as the primary tool in engagement, contribution and collaboration for the nonprofit. Many entities with similar values love our modern structure and collaborations have helped us grow our reach and credibility. The success of Celebration Nation is largely due to the fact that most of my professional skill sets come from my first company, Yeevents, an event company that requires the skill set of managing and coordinating events and people. It’s been a full circle.
My personal achievement has been making my family and community proud. Everyday I aim to inspire and empower my people, actions speak louder than words, and I aim to impact through action, there’s a reason they call me an act-ivist. I think it’s important to mention that I also make myself proud, it’s definitely a personal achievement.
What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?
A goal I have that I haven’t accomplished yet is making education accessible to our communities across the nation. There’s such powerful technology in our present day and I refuse to sit back and watch our communities get left behind when we have all the tools we need but not enough resources or accessibility to utilize them. I’m very invested in blockchain technology and web 3. In the past year I have created a Metaverse that includes a university, a museum and a stage. I’ve created a world for us, by us, a world where we can connect, learn and engage in community. We plan on launching this world in the middle of 2023, in the meantime I’m working on finding the right people to help me build the curriculum and structure of the university. The right people will come at the right time. In order to accomplish the goal of making education more widely accessible we need to be able to access the communities that need them the most. Celebration Nation currently has a nutrition program that serves thousands of Latino/Indigenous kids across the state with food security. Through our food assistance programs, Celebration Nation has been collecting data on families for two years now. When it’s time to launch this educational program, we will make it accessible to those that need it most.
What pop culture moment made you feel seen?
Honestly Black Panther: Wakanda Forever really had me in my feels. It was the most beautiful representation I’ve seen on the big screen. From the beautiful Latino/Indigenous faces, to the messages I caught in the movie that related to modern day issues our communities face today. I felt seen. Also, now with the series Wednesday, it’s so exciting to see a Latina running up the charts on a platform I hardly see representation in. Don’t even get me started on Encanto! Have you noticed how these films that represent us become #1? Just a year ago we were only 5 percent in media representation, might still be. Now look at us breaking barriers. REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
How do you practice self care?
I practice self care through what I feed my body, mind and soul. I am very set on the way I eat, I feed my body healthy and nutritional foods. I don’t eat fast food, I rarely eat meat or dairy, I don’t consume highly processed foods, I don’t consume high sugars or sodium. There’s a lot of things I don’t eat because I’m convinced this country wants to poison its people. Working with the farm worker community I’m well aware of the pesticides being sprayed on the food therefore I do my best to eat organically as well. Eating organically is better for our bodies, farm workers and the environment. I go to the gym as much as I can, body movement is important, and so is endurance and body strength.
I listen to music and I dance, which my body loves. When it comes to self care for my mental health, food is a factor yes but also one thing about me is I’m going to take a break when I need one. I used to overwork. I still do, but I had to learn to take a break when needed, it helps my overall productivity and prevents me from getting burnt out. I also practice self care with herbal remedies and walks. But nothing feels better than being with family and spending time with energies you love.
Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:
There’s so many accounts I’d love to shout out but the top two that first come to mind are
@immigola and @undocuprofessionals, both are doing great work for our immigrant communities and both were founded by powerful Latinas/Indigenas, Magybet Mendez and Sharet Garcia. @immigola provides low cost immigration services like DACA renewals, green card and citizenship applications, all things immigration. @undocuprofessionals is a national community for and by undocu, that provides resources and career planning and opportunities regardless of immigration status.
Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:
My favorite Latina/Indigena owned businesses would have to be the following:
@vibe.withmestudio – this dance company is full of empowerment while expressing yourself through dance. Take a dance class here!
@lunamexicankitchen – yum! This Bay Area Mexican restaurant is the place to take the ones you love! They organically and responsibly source their ingredients and have the yummiest healthy menu! They give back to farm workers and love giving back to the community!
@shopmorenamia – this fashion brand is new to the game and I’m so excited to see how far they will go! They are here to make a fashion statement while giving us a space to shop our closet. I see you Aleja!
@blowup.l.a – for all your party needs in LA, she also does shipping for custom wrapped treats and recuerdos! For all your celebrations and get-togethers!