Around The Way Girl: Lizette Garza

I realize I’m not going to change every single student, but if I just have that one, I know that this is what I should be doing. This is what makes my work so rewarding and powerful. Lizette Garza is a 6 year veteran with ElevArte Community Studio in Pilsen working as their Youth and Events Manager. Graduating from Columbia College with a BA in Music Business in 2012, Lizette hasn’t forgotten her roots and the community she came from. She truly is a great Youth Advocate while managing many of the events with ElevArte and keeping these kids involved within their community. Being a hip hop lover at heart, read the jump for all this Around The Way girl does for youth and the impact she has had on her students without noticing her power.

Tell us about your background:

I am Mexican-American, my family has been residents of Pilsen for generations! I’m kind of from a couple of places around Chicago. I grew up a little bit in Chicago Lawn, then Pilsen. When I was a little older, we moved to the suburbs to Willow Springs so I’ve done my fair share of moving around in Chicago. It has has truly offered me an experience as far as of classicism and racism. My family was the one of the only Mexican families in a predominantly white suburb. So there’s my share of experience with that, but I always have considered Pilsen my home. I’ve been here since I attended Columbia College.



So tell us what exactly that it is that you do?

I am the Youth and Events Manager at ElevArte. That entails working with We Are Hip Hop Festival youth, managing their program and making sure that the event runs smoothly. Still loving and doing everything that is Hip Hop related, and also working closely with other community members and organizing all of the other ElevArte events like The Day of The Dead, Pozolada and all of their other major fundraisers and cultural celebrations.


How did you hear about ElevArte and what characteristics of this organization drove you to want to work there?

Because of Columbia College as a Junior. I was looking for ways to give back to my community or the place I called home. The community that gave me so much. And honestly, a part of fitting with ElevArte was identity issues I had because I talked “white” or didn’t act “Latino” enough.” You know, it’s like that scene in Selena, when the dad says we can’t satisfy everyone, “You’re not white enough or you’re not brown enough”. It was complex and I wanted to be more tight knit with a community that understood. Getting back to my roots and having appreciation for the arts because I’ve always been really good at it. That’s where I found a match with ElevArte. I interned with them and they knew that I loved hip hop, they knew I was good at planning events and teaching so they took me under their wing from an all women staff. Not only with my identity issues, but they made a place for me in the arts world, the nonprofit world and the hip hop world. I’ve been with them ever since and I’m going on 6 years now.

I know that you are the Youth and Special Events Manager, managing the We Are Hip Hop annual festival. What sparked your interest in wanting to start this? How do you decide what artists are going to be a part of the showcases?

The youth are the ones in charge of this! The instructors and me do a submission process every year and invite people to submit. The youth are all already influenced by Chicago hip hop. They just started listening to artists like Chance the Rapper & Vic Mensa. They just started to be avid listeners of Chicago hip hop. We open the submissions, students reach out to anyone they really love.


Do you ever feel there is a problem with any of the lyrics any of the participating artists have? (Not saying all hip hop is bad; however, from one hip hop fan to another, we know the lyrics aren’t always the greatest) Is this ever an issue for the youth festival?

You know, I don’t think we’re ever going to have a language that is not going to be reflective of our communities. We are going to get angry and we’re going to swear and I think that is a direct reflection of our communities, what we see and the issues that are happening. I don’t think the negative issues are going to stop until the systematic problems stop within communities. But, it’s also hard to keep our young people to not be influenced by that. But, they know these stories and relate to them. So, when it comes down to hip hop, we as the older people (adults) don’t have to tell them, “this is real hip hop or this isn’t real hip hop.” It’s essentially what you feel and how you connect to it.



What positive impacts does this event/ElevArte had on the youth? What is the most inspiring/touching story you have been through while working here?

I had a student work with us and he was gang affiliated–drug dealing, just hard times. He came back after being a part of this program and texted me months later saying, “if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. I would have never thought I would be able to work or even be alive.” Just showing that you care or showing compassion is something that they always need. I realize I’m not going to change every single student, but if I just have that one, I know that this is what I should be doing. This is what makes my work so rewarding and powerful.



What are some challenges you go through with this position? Or are all of the kids compliant most of the time?

Honestly, I think the hardest or more difficult thing is having adult allies in our corner or acting like they care. For example, kids come back all the time after trying to talk to store owners about sponsorship. They’re not listened to or get kicked out of their stores. The kids actually come back and say, “No business owner wanted to give me the time of day. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m Black or because I’m Brown or because of my age” and we hear this all the time. How can we teach our neighbors to be youth advocates? There is such a stigma to young people. Hearing these stories is just difficult. The way we deal with this is we tell one another what’s happening. We’ve all gone through our own struggles and we talk about how can we overcome this together. Having them know that they aren’t the only ones that things like this has happened to. These students have the mic and the floor to tell stories like this. They come back all the time after they’re done with the program and tell us they love coming back because we’re their home and their family. It’s amazing!



Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

That is something I’m having a really hard time with. {laughs}  I think it’s very  important to set goals for myself. I’m having a really hard time deciding what I want to do though. I’ve been thinking about going back to school and social work because of the work I do already or maybe counselor. But, I don’t know if I want to go back to school, or maybe be an Executive Director within non-profits. But, I will be definitely working within a community and young people and the hip hop world or any relation to music.

What’s the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Career wise I think it’s really hard for me to think outside of the box. I do We Are Hip Hop, I work the Day of the Dead and recently I’m organizing “Growing up Loteria”, so I think it’s just bringing my cultural background and creating this event. This was big with my family so I want to share this with the community. This is coming in May. It’s tough to organize.

Now personally, I think eating dinner by myself at a restaurant is so hard. Haha. I took myself to dinner I took myself on a date. Like, people will look at you! I think it’s so empowering and I was like “OMG YES!” It is so empowering and important to have self-care and self-love. That’s a risk I took not too long ago.

What advice would you give your 20 year old self?

I’m 25, so my 20 year old self wasn’t that long ago! Haha. I probably would have left Chicago for a little bit. At that time, I was so madly in love with someone and sometimes I get blinded by that. So I think I would have definitely would have ventured out and not been afraid to take a risk and moving for a little bit. I do plan on doing it still, I still feel that I have time and it’s still in the back of my head.

So you still plan on leaving at some point?

I think so! I really love the south and I swear I was destined to be a southern belle! Lol. I love Texas, Atlanta, and New Orleans I swear has my heart. I love the south. My family is from there before they moved to Chicago. I think it would be good for me to move away from Chicago. I feel like Chicago is just too intense right now, not to say the south isn’t but I need to leave and grow a little bit. I should have told my 20 year old self to do that instead of doing it now.


What advice would you give any young woman out there who is afraid to take a risk?

There is a network out there for you to support you. There is a community that wants to push you forward. I found my niche where people were willing to help me and push me forward. I think it’s possible to always go with what you want to do in life and surround yourself with people who are willing to support you with that. You need positive influences around you. There are always resources.


What is your favorite thing about Chicago?

The fooood! The food! Yes. I’m obsessed with pizza. That’s all I want to do my spare time is eat pizza. I love the culture around food and going to different neighborhoods and being able to experience and try new things. I think when we’re sitting and sharing a meal, it’s a great way of connecting with people. I just feel like it’s so personal. Palermo’s on 63rd is my favorite pizza place!

Be sure to follow Lizette on Social Media, personal Instagram  @lza_gee to see what she and her students are up to at Elevate Arte Studio follow: @elevartestudio



** Mural Photography credit:  


Know an Around The Way Girl we should interview?! Leave a Comment Below.


Editor’s note: Our good Fried Daisy thought of interviewing Lizette and submitted this week’s interview.  Thank you so much. We are always accepting writing submissions for our blog and not very picky on the topic. If  you have anything you would love to submit email us at 

About Daisy:
Daisy comes from a Mexican Family and grew up in Round Lake, Il. She is 27 and receiveD her BS in Fashion Merchandising from Western Illinois University. Her hobbies include staying active, DIY curly hair treatments, and binge watching friends.She loves the festivals, beach, and Cubs games that come with Summetime Chi.  You can catch her in car singing Selena, Drake, Miguel, and Common. Follow her on the ‘gram @Daisysocute

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