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The journey that the Chicana Marissa Elena lived with their husband in order for him to obtain a visa in the United States, came in the form of a comic strip in the LA Times newspaper. The strip touched many Latinos who have gone through the same situation. Photo: LA Times | Marissa
The journey of Chicana Marissa Elena with their husband for him to obtain a U.S. visa, is now a comic strip in the Los Angeles Times. The strip touched many Latinos who have gone through the same situation. Graphic courtesy of Marissa Elena.

Art changes lives

Marissa Elena made a change in her professional career, and now produces a podcast that advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

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It's the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles, some day in 2020. Marissa Elena wakes up, turns off the alarm clock and soon feels ready to start a new, but routine workday. They have no other option, like almost everyone else. Elena turned their living room into a makeshift work office, and after taking a course to become a teaching assistant, they landed a position teaching math classes to children at a local elementary school.

“It has been very stressful teaching children during the pandemic,” they said in conversation with AL DÍA.

With hours and hours within four walls, unable to leave due to COVID-19 restrictions, Elena found a refuge of disconnection and tranquility in podcasts about art. They took them up and soon realized there was always a male voice on the other side of the program.

As a Women’s and Gender Studies graduate, Elena is especially sensitive to all things related to diversity, inclusion and LGBTQ+ rights. That’s why, in the same year a pandemic kept presenting them with new challenges, they decided to produce of their own podcast. One where they interviews artists, not only Latinos but all who belong to marginalized communities — queer, trans and non-binary.

“I identify myself as non-binary, not necessarily as a woman, and that’s why I wanted to hear stories from other creators, because I follow them and I also lis-ten to podcasts. Also, I didn’t know other podcasts that focus on queer artists or women artists, and the art world is full of men. So, I wanted to focus on women and queer people and get to know their stories. There are a lot of women artists and I wanted to highlight those stories”,she says.This is how Tending Creativity was born, a program that has already aired18 episodes of between 30 minutes and1 hour length. These episodes showcase the trajectory of emerging female talents linked to the world of design, fashion and illustration.Marissa Elena acknowledges that the beginnings were not easy. Looking after a podcast and a job required a lot of effort and time. “I took several breaks from the podcast because I was working and it was difficult to have consistent or solid programming; I had to be flexible,” they said.

In January 2022, they quit the position they held for five years and opted to turn their career with the innovative format.

“The next step, at the school where I was working, was becoming a teacher, and I never wanted to be a teacher. Now I have more time for the podcast and it's more consistent because it’s broadcast every two weeks,” they added.

A full-time illustrator

In addition to Tending Creativity, Elena is an illustrator. Their name appeared for the first time in a comic strip in the Latinx Files section of the Los Angeles Times. In this strip, they recount the journey they went through with their husband, of Mexican origin, to obtain a visa in the United States.

“I received a lot of messages from people who read the comic who had similar experiences. Some people told me that they have family members who, unlike us, didn’t get a visa and that the comic really helped them with that experience.They felt that my story was worth telling because you never know what it’s really about until you have to go through it,” they said.

Comments like this are an encouragement for Elena, who hopes that the strip is just the beginning of a long career that allows them to make visible everything that worries, affects, matters and unites the Latinx community, to which they, as a fifth-generation Mexican-American, feels very close.

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