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.
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.
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.”