THE STANDARD: How did you get involved in this event and why are you fighting for bail and criminal justice reform?
ELIANA GIL RODRIGUEZ: I’ve used Instagram as a platform for raising awareness about certain social and political issues that I feel need exposure and I suppose that’s why I was approached to be involved. At first, I felt quite intimidated by the issue of criminal justice because it’s so complex and desperately needs reform on so many different fronts—bail, mandatory sentencing, prosecution’s reliance on plea deals, the war on drugs, the lack of alternatives to incarceration, police practices—but so many of these issues can be traced back to the fact that mass incarceration is an industry and there is a monetary incentive to funneling people into prisons and keeping them there. It’s a system based on profits, not on justice. And you can’t talk about criminal justice in America without talking about race and the undeniable targeting of communities of color to feed the ever-expanding system. But the overhaul won’t happen all at once. That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness and rally support for organizations like the ACLU. They are on the ground fighting the battles, big and small, every day.
Where does your passion for activism come from?
I have too much respect for the tradition of activism to really use that word to describe myself or what I’m doing. I’m not there yet—maybe someday. I’m still just learning as much as I can and then trying to share what I’ve learned with others. Because ignorance is really what’s keeping us from finding solutions. I lived in a state of comfortable, ignorant bliss for a long time, like so many other people who can afford to do so. But after the election, so many issues rose to the surface and became hard to ignore. Instead of letting my ignorance deter me from being a part of important conversations, I let it motivate me to educate myself and others so that we can contribute to the solution. Contributing can mean making a call to congress, donating to the ACLU, or raising awareness and rallying support, so I’m really proud that we’re giving people the opportunity to do all those things tonight.
I moved to Montreal with my mother and older sisters when I was two. We moved for the stability, healthcare, education, all that good stuff. I was always into fashion. I got a job the second I was legally allowed to work (14 in Canada) basically so that I could afford to buy clothes. I taught myself to sew and would buy secondhand clothes and alter them. At 15 I was working in a fruit market making pyramids out of apples or whatever. Some teenagers lit a trash can on fire and accidentally burned the place to the ground. I needed a new job, so I started working at the American Apparel store at the mall. I worked my way up throughout high school and university and ended up getting the opportunity to relocate to the LA headquarters and work more on the creative side. It was February in Canada and I was freezing my ass off, so I ended up dropping out of University and moving to LA at 19.
What do you love about the city?
I think you can live here your whole life and never finish discovering it. LA has a seemingly infinite supply of hidden gems, hidden pockets of culture. It’s also just a really weird place. The main industry is entertainment, so artifice and illusion are pretty deeply engrained; it’s a way of life. I didn’t always like it here to be honest. It can feel very isolating and disingenuous. But I think it just took me a little longer to find a sense of community that felt right for me, partly because it’s so sprawling. Once you find or build a community, it’s the most incredible place.