Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.

By Shalayne Pulia
May 09, 2019 @ 5:30 pm
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Paola Mendoza’s weapon of choice when fighting for immigrants’ rights has always been creativity. The filmmaker, activist, writer, and former artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington honed her storytelling skills in the early 2000s with movies like Entre Nos and her subsequent book, The Ones Who Don’t Stay, both based on her experiences immigrating to the United States from Colombia as a child. Since then, she has dedicated her life and social-media feeds to rallying support for marginalized groups. Now with a dystopian novel on the way and a 6-year-old son whom she says she’s hell-bent on raising as a feminist, Mendoza is continuing her crusade.

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Art impact: “The past few years have taught me that my skills as an artist are critical to moving forward with change,” Mendoza says. But she admits that her concerns for the environment and immigrants’ rights following the 2016 U.S. presidential election made her question if art was enough. But, she says, “my friends reminded me that art is needed now more than ever.” Mendoza channels this mind-set in her role as co-founder of the Soze Agency, a worker-owned creative social impact company that tackles issues like criminal justice and gun reform with awareness-raising campaigns.

Paola Mendoza with Central American refugees in the caravan from Oaxaca to Veracruz, Mexico.

Social response: In early November, Mendoza traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, to document the ordeals of the caravan of Central American refugees, who would eventually be met by tear gas at the U.S.-Mexico border. She later drummed up support from her 140,000-plus social-media following to raise over $22,000 (and counting) on GoFundMe for one asylum-seeking family she’d met on the road. “I was at the front lines of the family-separation crisis, which was one of the most difficult things I’ve done,” she says. “But in dark times, love for my community gets me up in the morning to do this work.”

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Music heals: Mendoza says singing with the Resistance Revival Chorus, which she co-founded in 2017, has become the bedrock of her strength. The group of more than 60 women performs at various protests and even sang “Praying” with Kesha during her powerful performance at the 2018 Grammys.

Passing the torch: “My most important mission in life as a mom is to raise my son to have compassion for others,” says Mendoza, who spent 42 hours in labor to give birth to him (“the baddest-ass thing I’ve ever done”). “In order for him to care for others, he has to know what’s going on, and I have to be brave enough to have difficult conversations with him about things like the caravan,” Mendoza says. She believes all moms share this responsibility, “because, ultimately, that will make the world a safer place for everyone.” 

Strong together: “Feminism has been a complicated issue for me as a woman of color in this country,” Mendoza says. But she thinks the future looks bright. “The movement is opening up and bringing in all of us. Being a part of that has been healing and empowering.”  

For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download on May 17. 

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