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We Have to Stand Up for Ourselves’: Women’s March Mobilizes Latinas

Latinas participated in massive marches across the country Saturday to usher in a new fight for civil and gender rights, environmental protections, access to reproductive health services and immigrant rights. The diversity of these women marching demonstrated that these issues cross personal boundaries and physical borders.

America Ferrera Kicks Off Women's March: 'The President is Not America' 1:52

Women's marches and rallies were held in cities all over the United States - as well as around the world - and the crowds far surpassed the numbers that were expected. Over half a million people attended the largest march, in Washington D.C., originally the crowd was expected to be about 200,000.

Actress and activist America Ferrera kicked off the rally in the nation's capital. "It's been a heartwrenching time to be a woman and an activist in this country," said Ferrera. "The platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday," she said. "But the president is not America, his cabinet is not America, Congress is not America - we are America!"

A view of the Women's March in Washington, D.C. Lyanne Alfaro

Latinas across the country who organized and went to the marches and events told NBC Latino why they rallied.

"It's important through this march that we understand the role women have played throughout history: To be part of this march, is to carry on their legacy; Berta Cáceres, the indigenous woman who fought for water and was murdered. All of our moms, grandmothers and sisters," said Angela Adrar, 41, the executive director of Climate Justice Alliance in Washington D.C.

"This march is a visual representation of our power," said Adrar, who is Colombian American. She crossed the border with her mother at the age of five.

Melissa Montero Padilla, 35, of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian descent, traveled from Queens, New York to attend the D.C. march. "I'm marching for my niece, our families, all of the single mothers, immigrant women and our elders; I march because our lives depend on it."

Cindy Wiesner, 45, came from Miami to Washington, D.C. to participate in the march.

"As a daughter of a domestic worker, as a lesbian and as a feminist, I think that this march is really important, because the Trump and Pence administration, in a lot of ways, is going to target me, my community and the people that I love - who are very similar to me," said Wiesner, who is the executive director of Grassroot Global Justice Alliance.

"I think it is important to try and come out with thousands of other people - people who are coming out from all over the world," she said.

Apart from América Ferrera, other big celebrities, such as Madonna, Alicia Keys, Amy Schumer, Scarlett Johansson, and Zendaya, were among the high-profile participants in the D.C. march.

Sonia Manzano, known to millions for her groundbreaking and decades-long role of "Maria" in "Sesame Street," traveled from NYC to D.C. to participate in Saturday's demonstration with a group of schoolgirls from New York City public schools.

"Hopefully they get involved and pay attention, and realize that they have a huge impact. If you don't participate, you matter even less," said Manzano. She told NBC Latino she hopes her participation will be example of the need to get involved.

There was a reason this march resonated with so many, but especially women all over the country, says gender politics professor Celeste Montoya.

"Many people were disappointed and angry after the election," Montoya said. "Issues of gender were front and center with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate and with Trump's polarizing sexual assault and discrimination; it caused people to mobilize."

Montoya believes we are in a social movement era and said she wasn't shocked to see how quickly the women's marches gained traction.

"This is what happens in democracy when people are left out, and I expect to see more," said Montoya, who teaches at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "This is just the beginning."

In New York City, singer and songwriter Cecilia Villar El Juri said that she got involved because she wanted to make sure that Latinos and immigrants were represented. "The march is meant to promote civil rights for everyone. I felt like I really aligned with that. This is open to everybody - but driven by women," Villar El Juri said.

Organizers and volunteers for the New York City Women's March vary in age, are multi-generational, and are made up of women from varied careers, explained Villar El Juri. She and other organizers had spent a lot of time preparing for the march, including in-person and online meetings and dry runs of the event. Organizers of the march also met with the the New York Police Department for permits and to make sure it was a peaceful effort.

In San Francisco, Leila Salazar-Lopez was marching for many reasons, one of those being environmental issues. Salazar-Lopez is the executive director of Amazon Watch, and says that she and her colleagues have worked hard to protect the rain forest for over 20 years, but fears that the incoming administration might disregard that.

"We have an administration that denies climate change," Salazar Lopez says. "It's one of the biggest threats our society has ever faced. It's our job, not only to amplify the voices, but to also promote the protection of mother earth in a positive way."

Salazar-Lopez says that indigenous communities, black and brown, are the communities most affected by environmental issues. She says there's no way to have climate justice, unless companies and corporations stop extracting fossil fuels from the ground.

The march was the beginning of something that Salazar-Lopez said she believes needs to keep moving forward.

"If there's ever a moment for us to do something, it's now," said Salazar-Lopez. "We have to stand up for ourselves. Not just to protest, but to put out our visions of what we want in the world."

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