This woman used creative writing as a refuge while growing up in the midst of a violent drug war. And now she's fostering a love for LatinX poetry.
Davina Agudelo was born in Miami, Florida, but she grew up in Medellín, Colombia.
"I am so grateful for my upbringing in Colombia, surrounded by mountains and mango trees, and for my Colombian family," Agudelo says. "Colombia is the place where I learned what's truly essential in life." It's also where she found her passion for the arts.
While she was growing up, Colombia was going through a violent drug war, and Agudelo turned to literature, theater, singing, and creative writing as a refuge. "Journaling became a sacred practice, where I could leave on the page my dreams & longings as well as my joy and sadness," she says. "During those years, poetry came to me naturally. My grandfather was a poet and though I never met him, maybe there is a little bit of his love for poetry within me."
In 1998, when she left her home and everyone she loved and moved to California, the arts continued to be her solace and comfort. She got her bachelor's degree in theater arts before getting certified in journalism at UCLA. It was there she realized the need to create a media platform that highlighted the positive contributions of LatinX in the US.
"I know the power that storytelling and writing our own stories have and how creative writing can aid us in our own transformation."
In 2012, she started Alegría Magazine and it was a great success. Later, she refurbished a van into a mobile bookstore to celebrate Latin American and LatinX indie authors and poets, while also encouraging children's reading and writing in low-income communities across Southern California.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, she decided it was time to do even more to serve people during these difficult times.
"It became clearer to me that the lack of representation in the book publishing industry for BIPOC/LatinX writers & poets had to change," she says. "I want to be an agent of change in the publishing industry and contribute to its transformation."
She created Alegría Publishing to nurture and produce works by indie LatinX storytellers and expanded the mobile bookstore to celebrate BIPOC/LatinX writers and poets, as well as the books published by Alegría publishing. And one day she hopes that she can take the bookstore across the United States and discover even more emerging writers.
Today, Agudelo also mentors indie authors two nights a week through the Alegría Writing Collective for LatinX writers. "They rock my world every class," she says.
"The amount of talent in our community pushes me to keep growing our company so the world can read their work and remember their names."
Agudelo has made it her mission to empower women and her community. "My career has been such a blessing filled with magical milestones and I never take these moments for granted," she says. "There is nothing like being able to make a woman's dream of publishing their first book and bring it to life. Watching their reaction, when they look at their book for the first time is priceless."
"As women, we are naturally powerful, we just have to keep reminding each other of our power."
Agudelo is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to The Sims Library of Poetry, which is the first black-owned poetry library in California.
"Hiram Sims, its founder, started lending books to his university students out of this suitcase after mandating that they read one book of poetry a week. As demand grew, his suitcase library was forced to seek a larger home," says Agudelo. "Their mission is to serve, educate, and foster a love for poetry, especially for marginalized people of color in the community of South Los Angeles."
To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today.
We're almost there! As we're getting closer and closer to being able to travel safely again, it's time to consider how traveling, especially solo, is going to be different post-pandemic. Now that many of our lives have been turned upside down (and inside out, and every which way), we have the opportunity to rethink many of our old habits, including how we travel. I propose this: let's start thinking about how traveling solo helps us recharge, rejuvenate, and challenge ourselves to do and be our best.
If you're like me and downloaded TikTok during the pandemic, you might have caught some major FOMO from seeing creators' #traveltok content. With so many incredible destinations popping up on your feed, how do you choose one?
Step 1: Choose your destination.
To have a fulfilling and empowering travel experience, it's important to choose a destination (or a few) that aligns with your travel goals. Do you want to disconnect or socialize with other travelers? Do you want to get in touch with nature, or explore a new city?
Close your eyes and imagine your higher self, out in the world traveling like a boss. Where are you? What are you doing? Who and what do you hope to find on your path?
If getting out into nature on your own (safely!) is where you picture yourself, look for a national park that is especially suited for solo travelers. You might be surprised at how many places are actually well-suited for solo camping. For example, Black Rock City, Nevada is one of the USA's most remote deserts and it makes for an incredible solo camping trip.
If you want to explore a new city and perhaps put yourself out there to make new friends, there are many cities in the USA that are perfect for that. New Orleans is one example for a few reasons, one of them being the friendliness and down-to-earth hospitality of the city. Another one is the plethora of fun things to do that are totally approachable as a solo traveler, like taking a walking tour or shopping in the French Quarter.
Step 2: Address your own solo travel anxieties.
What has held you back from traveling solo in the past? If you have done it, what parts of it were the most uncomfortable? Especially as a woman, I tend to find new uncomfortable things about solo traveling every time I do it. Before your next trip, sort out what your fears are and make a plan for how you are going to face them.
Eating alone, for example, can be a huge red anxiety button for some people, maybe so much that it holds them back from trying new restaurants. Sometimes I notice that people eating alone tend to distract themselves with their phones, books, anything to numb the discomfort of being at a restaurant alone. While you're traveling and soaking up a new place, do you really want to escape it, though?
Grab a journal and write down everything that you are anxious about before your trip. Be honest. If it's getting your period on the subway, write that. Go to town with your anxiety upchuck. Now, go through each one and ask yourself: Would I judge someone else for doing that? Most of the time, the answer is no. So why judge yourself?
If you are still feeling anxious about going out and doing things alone, book a group activity before you head to your destination. This can help ease the tension of being completely alone on your first day by opening the door to making friends or simply enjoying an activity with other travelers.
Step 3: Pack to feel your best.
There's a lot of shame around choosing clothes to wear, especially in the summer months. With all this talk about "beach body" workouts and diets, we're expected to look our absolute best if we're going to be showing our bodies while on vacation. Who decided what a "beach body" looks like, though? And who told you that you can't wear that adorable string bikini you stress-ordered while fantasizing about your post-pandemic beach trip?
Photo by Brina Blum on
The clothes that you choose to decorate your body with are meant to make you feel comfortable. Traveling solo gives us the opportunity to be anonymous in a new place, so it's actually a fabulous way to take that fashion risk you might not feel comfortable with at home. This gives us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves through travel. So grab that bikini, fuzzy hat, or comfy jumpsuit and put it directly into your carry-on. In 2021 we're dressing for ourselves, boo.
Step 4: Get your safety plan in check.
Let's face it. It's impossible to have an empowering, uplifting solo trip if you're constantly worried about your safety. Much of staying safe in a new place has to do with mitigation, rather than emergency action. That said, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for your next solo adventure and leave your worry at home.
First of all, connect with your intuition. Look inward with a meditation on intuition, a journal prompt, or a mantra. Connecting with your inner voice will allow you to remain alert in a foreign environment. When we learn how to listen to our gut, we can sense if a place or a situation has potential danger before our safety is put at risk. That dude you met at the bar who told you he only eats food for "fuel"? Yeah, your intuition was right about him. Walk away, girl, walk away.
All jokes aside, there are quite a few other things to keep in mind as well:
- Keep your money and valuables in a safe place. You can even roll up your cash and keep it in an unused tampon or other unassuming item for peace of mind.
- Avoid walking around with headphones in.
- Research the place you're going for scams and other bits of info on how to stay safe there.
- Take an inventory on how you appear to others. How does your gender expression, race, ethnicity, and clothing appear to people in the place where you are traveling? Unfortunately, certain aspects of our identity can put us at risk. However, you get to decide how much of your expression you want to modify in order to be less of a target.
- Have your own back, but also keep an eye out for other solo travelers. If you feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to ask for help. You never know when someone might need your help as well.
Step 5: Empower others on your path.
There's something to be said about the power we receive by lifting each other up. What we give comes back to us. One obvious way to empower other women through your own solo travel journey is to simply talk about it with them. It can be a great way to show other women that they, too, can travel solo.
Photo by Briana Tozour on
Our buying habits also have a lot of power. Before your trip, see if any of the tours or excursions you want to take have a woman tour guide. Even better, see if you can find a tour company that is woman-owned. Look around the web to see if there are any women's collectives where you're going. They can give you valuable insight into the local culture and women's experiences there, all while allowing you to buy souvenirs directly from them. Take that idea and apply it to whatever form of empowerment is most important to you, whether it's supporting the local LGBTQ population, indigenous groups, the BIPOC community, anything.
Your post-pandemic travel plans do not have to compensate for months of being socially isolated by going to the first place that sounds like an escape. Take your time thinking about how you really want to travel. Set an intention, follow your instincts, and go out there and have the time of your life.
Women travel solo for different reasons, every single one of them being completely valid. The point isn't that we all have to travel alone the same way, it's that we should be doing so on our terms without ceding to the expectations of what we see on Insta, Tiktok, or anywhere else on the interwebs. Sometimes a trip to a beach resort is what we need and sometimes what we need is to go to Utah and climb on some rocks in the desert. It's all about having the freedom and the know-how to choose.
About the author: Emily is a solo travel enthusiast based in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico. She is a part-time freelance writer for the most-read solo female travel blog Be My Travel Muse and a part-time doula.
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