She Crisscrosses Continents to Beat Human Trafficking: Norma Bastidas

To commemorate Hispanics in Philanthropy’s 33rd year, we honored 33 Latino leaders who inspire as our 2017 HIPGivers. Read HIPGiver Norma Bastidas’s story below.

Norma Bastidas is a survivor. She’s also a human rights activist and Guinness World Record Holder for longest triathlon. Her story is one of resilience, determination and strength, both physically and emotionally. Born into struggling families and a community affected by violence, she was like millions of girls worldwide who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. And, like them, she was a perfect target for human trafficking. This is the story of her life and her philanthropy.

To support her family in Sinaloa, Mexico, Bastidas accepted a lucrative modeling job offer in Japan. She was 19.  Upon arriving, her passport was taken away and, instead of modeling, she was sent to work in bars. So began her years of sexual exploitation and assaults.

Unbroken, Bastidas found her escape through education. She used tips from working in bars to study during the day and eventually obtained a student visa granting her legal status in Japan and allowing her to find regular employment. She left Japan after six years and settled in Canada, where she studied business administration and is pursuing Women and Gender Studies and psychology coursework.

Eventually, Bastidas became a single mom with two boys, one of whom had special needs.  She started running to cope with daily stressors and the post-traumatic stress from her past. Once she found support for herself and her family, she never stopped running.

Bastidas decided to speak out, and to raise awareness about sexual violence, she embarked on an ultramarathon. She ran more than 2,000 miles through three countries, from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Mazatlan, Mexico.

While passing through Tijuana, Bastidas visited a domestic violence shelter. That’s when she began to realize that she had been trafficked.

I thought I wasn’t, because I had signed a contract. When I learned these are targeted false promises to young women, that changed everything for me. I understood that I was preyed on.

“Then I got the idea for the world’s longest triathlon,” she added. “I decided to learn to swim and show the world my determination.’’

In 2014, the year she turned 47, Bastidas set a Guinness World Records mark for the longest triathlon:  3,096 miles running, biking and swimming from Cancun, Mexico, to Washington, D.C. The route traces part of the human trafficking flow in the Americas. iEmpathize provided support and filmed it for inclusion in the documentary, “Be Relentless.”

“It shocks people that I’m Hispanic and a female,” she said in support of Hispanics in Philanthropy’s work. “Latinos are portrayed as one dimensional. I want to break that stereotype as much as possible . . . by breaking the world record as a Latina, female and survivor.”

Sometimes, she finds that she can help others begin to heal just by listening.

After speaking engagements, women are waiting for me backstage, and it’s the first time they’ve ever spoken about their experience as survivors.

Bastidas sees herself as an ordinary person doing extraordinary things to eradicate human trafficking and sexual violence. Along the way, she has empowered herself and so many others to step from being victims, to becoming survivors.

Feeling inspired? Read fellow HIPGiver Marcelina Bautista’s story and let the uplifting vibes continue!

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