Co-Founder, We, Ceremony
Community Organizer, La Comunidad, Inc.
Heritage: Salvadoran – American
By: April M. Crehan
Growing up in the Back Bay/Copley neighborhood of Boston, Iliana Panameño didn’t feel a shortage of role models.
“I was very fortunate to have cousins and family friends that did look like me and had been able to pursue the things that they wanted to in terms of small business or going to college.” That changed when she went to college herself.
“I did my undergrad in Nebraska and that was when it hit me more. Nebraska does have a large Mexican and Latino population,” she said, but “in terms of local politics—it wasn’t so much represented.”
When she and a friend with a similar college experience reconnected back in Boston, they decided to start a website called “We, Ceremony” to address the lack of representation and negative portrayals of women of color.
Through “We, Ceremony,” she interviews women of color on the street about topics ranging from style to stereotypes and features profiles of women of color from around the world who are positively influencing their communities.
“We feel like we’re celebrating these voices,” she said.
In addition to her work with “We, Ceremony” Panameño is also a community organizer for La Comunidad in Everett. Her role there includes rallying residents and urging them to participate in the political process. La Comunidad is also currently working to pass an Everett ordinance to form a trust act between local police and residents.
“There’s been an uptick in deportations in the city,” Panameño said. “Residents are scared of even reporting a crime to the police now…. They just don’t trust them at all, which is completely understandable.”
Panameño explained that both “We, Ceremony” and La Comunidad attempt to answer the question “Where is our seat at the table?”
Although not an immigrant herself, Panameño has family and friends who are. For many of them, “the opportunity to participate [in community decisions] is just barred.”
Massachusetts may be seen as a progressive haven, but Panameño saw a different picture while interning for the Boston Public Health Commission’s Anti-Racism Advisory Committee, where she saw stark differences in health depending on zip code.
“There is so much work to be done.” she said.
“The dichotomy of both being progressive but also knowing that there’s a lot of racism in the city –that’s what keeps me here.”