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Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez

Janet Martinez and Odilia Romero

Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez

Romero was born in the highlands of Oaxaca in a Zapotec community and credits that early sense of belonging as key to surviving the difficult transition to the U.S. When she crossed the border with a stranger at 10 years old, Romero did not speak English, Spanish or even consciously remember the parents who had gone ahead of her to the U.S. years earlier.

Today, Romero advocates fiercely for Indigenous migrants through the non-profit Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), which she co-founded with her daughter, Janet Martinez, whom she included in activism from an early age. Romero is a trilingual interpreter of Zapotec, Spanish, and English. She cites the formation of CIELO—the first Zapotec women-founded organization—to be one of her proudest accomplishments and considers CIELO’s work around language rights to be a powerful means of defending Indigenous human rights.

Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez

Her daughter and co-founder, Janet Martinez, is proud of CIELO’s distribution of $2.2 million in pandemic solidarity funds to the communities they serve. As part of this distribution process, CIELO made note of the preferred languages spoken by recipients and with this data created the first map of Indigenous migrant communities in Los Angeles.


“Belonging is being able to exist as an Indigenous person…. belonging is being able to speak your language, to be able to eat your food, to wear your traditional regalia.”

“Language rights are key to our human rights as Indigenous people. Language rights are key for us to be able to access health services, to access education. If they assume that I'm Latina in a hospital and they don't provide me with an interpreter, I could lose my life.”

“Sometimes [Indigenous] communities aren't reflected, not in the data, not in the media. So I think that for us, it was really important to create spaces in which we dictated the parameters of how we wanted to be represented. - Janet Martinez”

The matter of Belonging is core to our theory of change as a health equity-minded foundation.

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The matter of Belonging is core to our theory of change as a health equity-minded foundation.