Speaker My name is Cristina Jimenez and I'm the co-founder and executive director of United We Dream and I'm a social justice organizer.
Speaker And tell me about.
Speaker United We Dream is the largest network of immigrant youth across the country, over 60 percent of our members are women. So I have the privilege and to work with many young immigrant women of color from across the country. And we work towards racial justice and dignity for immigrants and all people of color. And we do our work through organizing, advocacy, leadership, development and empowerment of our communities.
Speaker Tell me about being an activist and why you chose this profession and what you love about it.
Speaker It's hard and I do not think I experience a moment where I said I'm going to choose to be an activist today or tomorrow or like that's the career. In fact, I didn't know what that was for me, really. I became a community organizer to survive in this country. It was a choice of either fighting for my existence in this country and to protect my family and myself and my brother from deportation or to live in the shadows with the fear that you can be detained and deported any any minute. So that's where the inspiration or the motivation to speak up, to advocate for our family, to advocate for my life and for others like me across the country. That's how I ended up being a community organizer, which I did not know that it was called that when I started doing that at the at the young age of about 19.
Speaker And are there particular challenges to being a female community organizer? Mm hmm.
Speaker Um, as a community organizer, I have experience how differently women, particularly women of color, are perceived and treated even in social justice spaces and certainly worse in in other in other spaces. So I particularly have experienced challenges where not only because I am young, but also because I'm a woman of color and because I'm an immigrant. My ideas like.
Speaker Oh, no worries. That's good. I didn't even notice that.
Speaker Thanks for your patience and.
Speaker So a of them know.
Speaker Mm hmm.
Speaker So as a young woman of color and immigrant, even in social justice spaces, I have experienced things like my ideas not being listened to.
Speaker But then there will be a man in the same room or in the same meeting or the same retreat that articulate the same thing that I had said.
Speaker But that idea or that comment, it's validated and is listened. And I have noticed that multiple times in spaces. And I recently had a similar experience in a meeting with members of Congress as we were advocating for the DREAM Act, which will protect young people like my own brother from deportation, where another advocate, a white man, said something that I had just said, and the member of Congress validated his comment and said, oh, what a good idea. I had just said the same thing and I had been completely dismissed. And, you know, it wasn't just my awareness after the meeting. Everyone was aware of that. So that's why it's important for me as a woman of color in a leadership role in social justice spaces is to ensure that we disrupt those dynamics constantly every day.
Speaker And the opportunity that I have by working with so many young women of color and young immigrant women in our network from across the country is to empower them and to also with them, continue to disrupt the status quo that we often see within social justice movements and also outside.
Speaker You're starting to touch upon and talking about disrupting the status quo, but I'd love to hear you describe what a lady like or being a lady like me.
Speaker Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Speaker I mean, the very fact that the very fact of thinking about what is to be a lady like, it erases a lot of discomfort with me about the condition of of women in society in the United States, but also outside of this country, because I think often and predominantly women are considered to be decorations or objects or accessories. And, you know, just recently, when you have a presidential candidate being very proud about saying things like, you know, he could grab women by their pussy and they will totally be OK with that. And so to me, I consider that, unfortunately, what part of what has made being a woman mean in in society? And so when I think about him, even though I don't like the term lady, you know, what is it to be or what does it mean for me to be unladylike?
Speaker And I will say is to be a human being and to be seen as that with my uniqueness and my full self, like anyone else, should have the right to be seen and be their full, authentic selves.
Speaker Is there a story in particular you'd want to tell about the time when you feel you. Unladylike manner in the positive way.
Speaker I think I am really thankful that I was raised by what many may consider a very unconventional woman, my mother, Leah, even though she was raised in a very conservative family in Ecuador where we're from, she raised me to be really who I needed to be, wherever I needed to be, to say what I wanted to say, to share what I was thinking, to not let anyone disrespect me.
Speaker And she just instilled in me a lot of love for myself, but also a lot of confidence. And since I was very, very little, I remember just being just a different kind of girl, even growing up.
Speaker So, for example, you know, my brother Jonathan was, I believe, 11 years old and he was coming from school as he was walking home in Jackson Heights, New York, where we grew up. And the local police had been walking around the neighborhood looking for, you know, young people that were selling drugs, according to them. And my brother, being a young male of color, walking in the streets of Jackson Heights, was racially profiled.
Speaker And about three police officers stop him and his friends. And they experience what in New York City and many other places people know as a stop and frisk where they were searched.
Speaker And my brother was just 11 years old. And when he got home, he just broke into tears to share how violated he had felt by, you know, three police officers searching his back and his pockets and threatening, threatening him to take him to jail.
Speaker So I got really upset and really angry. And my mother was crying like she was horrified that my brother had experienced that. And the first instinct that came to me is leaving our apartment in Jackson Heights and walking to the local prison and talk to the officers there, because I knew that there were local officers from the local prison and that's exactly what I did.
Speaker So probably at the age of, I don't know, 18, I walked into the prison by myself and asked to speak to the leadership there and hold them accountable for what just happened and work with another woman that I met at the prison to file a report.
Speaker And so that, you know, to me one challenge, not only the conceptions about my age, but also being a woman and being young and also being an immigrant woman. And in a country where being undocumented, as you know, as I was with my family, everything tells you that you need to stay quiet and don't speak up. And I don't challenge because you could be detained and deported. And so I knew that that was a real risk. So for me, that is one moment where I challenge what others will think a lady may not do in my situation.
Speaker Did it turn out.
Speaker Well, you know, unfortunately, and I don't know if this is the case across the country, but in New York City, when you file a report, it goes through all kinds of bureaucratic steps. The the the claim or the complaint had been reviewed by multiple people in the board of complaints, but he never got to a resolution.
Speaker But the lesson for me was that this was also for my brother and my mother, a situation about reclaiming their identity and pushing for justice, even when many will say, like, don't bother or you shouldn't, because you are not only part of a part of a community of color that's already criminalized, but you're also undocumented immigrants. So I know my brother learned a lot from that situation as well, were his biggest lesson was to don't be afraid to speak your truth and to challenge the status quo.
Speaker What do you think it meant to be unladylike in America a century ago? Hmm hmm.
Speaker I do think that about a century ago.
Speaker Women were seen as and considered to be.
Speaker Accessories and though and I will say that was mainstream, but I know that, you know, for many of us as young women of color who are organizers were always thinking about people like us that have done this before.
Speaker They have been leading and speaking out in their communities.
Speaker And I know that throughout all periods of history, despite the fact that women have seen us, you know, or being perceived and treated like decorations, we also have the examples of many courageous women, the regardless of the time when we'll look at when we look at history, have really challenge the status quo and lifted up their voices even when our own history has not paid attention to them. And perhaps for many, not even, you know, lifted up their stories and their roles in in our communities. So, you know, you you saw that not only from probably, you know, labor organizing or community organizing, but also in the workplace and wages or even seen as people that could engage in the workforce.
Speaker So when I think about, you know, just the kind of transformation that the country went through when we went through the era of industrialization and regardless of the fact the woman had the right to vote or not, they didn't.
Speaker The reality was that they had already been, you know, holding their households and being rocks for their families. But you also start seeing the role of women being integrated more into the workforce and being recognized, but still struggling for that recognition and for being treated like any other person would.
Speaker So, you know, I see many challenges that women face today. And it is sad in many ways, though, encouraging how much is the same and how much has changed for women in this country and the world.
Speaker Could you elaborate on the same difference? Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Speaker Yeah, and I have been really encouraged to see how much has changed now for women and for women and communities of color as well, where, um, you know, for example, I am proud to be part of an organization that is led by the majority of women.
Speaker And our members are majority women and they're all women of color who are empowered and speaking up and sharing their stories and leading in their communities. And they are recognized as the leaders that they are. And, you know, it's also sad to think about the challenges that continue in the workplace. For example, you know, my mom is a domestic worker here in the U.S. and through her experience working here, I know that many women like her continue to experience exploitation in the workplace on fair wages, and many of them have not even gotten to organize themselves. And though I'm inspired by movements of domestic workers who are fighting for their rights and we have seen many victories, it's unfortunate that we continue to see challenges like that in this country or even, you know, with this emerging movement of time's up and me, too, which is not that they haven't been here with us. They have been. But the fact of the matter is that a lot hasn't changed. But what gives me a lot of hope with women both, you know, being harassed in the workplace and in other spaces of society, what gives me a lot of hope in this moment is seeing the organizing and the coming together of women from all kinds of backgrounds to speak up.
Speaker You paint a picture for me, if you're able, of what life is like for women and specifically for women of color.
Speaker In the late 19th century, early 20th century considered the progressive era. Mm hmm, hmm, mm hmm.
Speaker So during the progressive era, I think it's something is important to remember. Women didn't have the right to vote.
Speaker They were recognized in the labor force, however, still struggling to be considered an equal and be treated like any other human or person working when it came to treatment and wages. And also, even when you look at the way in which women were organizing around that time.
Speaker And I really have loved the story and the role of women, particularly the role that they played in the prohibition movement, for example, in some of the contradictions about, you know, women led organizations that were predominantly white women and the spaces where women of color were organizing amongst themselves.
Speaker So what I think for me, a big learning from that era has been is I want to see that despite the fact that women didn't have the right to vote in the progressive era, they played a critical and significant role in the shaping of what that progressive era ended up being and the kind of influence that we had in our in our country from issues of working with immigrants in settlement houses, for example, to organizing for the right to vote, to organizing for the poor to be fighting for equal rights in the workplace. I mean, they were leading all kinds of fronts of fights and social justice issues, even fighting against racism.
Speaker And I I think that despite not having the right to vote, women were really the force to shape the politics, the agenda of that era and the importance of that era to which is the second lesson that I always draw is the importance of women of color, particularly in that era, that unfortunately often or history gets to be invisible and is women of color who plays such a huge role in ensuring that we continue to advance the rights of black people in this country who also organize around the need for voting and who also were forming organizations and collaborating with organization, despite the fact that they may have had different views, for example, on many issues from labor rights to prohibition at that time as well. So I think that those are the two things that from that era for me are so inspiring to see just the force that women played in shaping the politics and shaping our culture and shaping the agenda. And that really was the foundation that led to the the victories around voting rights as well after 1920.
Speaker Thank you.
Speaker You know, the history really want to tell me about what obstacles women would have faced as activists at the time.
Speaker Hmm. If you go ahead and perhaps what allowed some women to break out of those? Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Speaker I mean, I think that this is true with the Progressive Era, but also with other periods in history where race and class come also at the intersection of gender.
Speaker And what we learn from the progressive era is how why women in particular and women from affluent background or middle class or, you know, those that were wealthy at the time get to play more visible roles, get to have access to more resources, get to have access to different networks, to organize organizations, to lead campaigns. And the same level of access is not the same. When you look at black women, for example, at the time, which is generally a poor woman of color that may have shared vision and values, but didn't have won the recognition, but also the access to resources or the validation, even in spaces held by women, particularly by white women, a validation of their leadership. So I you know, though I did not live in that era, I cannot even imagine the challenges in doing things like being courageous and sharing your story or even convening people or developing strategy or leading a campaign, because you could see the intersections between class, gender and race and all of those playing a factor in how, you know, the role of white women played versus the role of women of color in our communities. So I I think that, you know, that gives me reflections about what do we see now as well.
Speaker And, you know, we struggle with some of the same challenges today as well, where the leadership of women of color is not as validated or recognized. We don't have access often to the networks and or resources that white women often have. And so I think that the things have changed and we see more and more women of color leading and being recognized for their work and their courage. You know, I think that we continue to struggle around those points of intersection of class, gender and race.
Speaker Tell me.
Speaker And as much detail as you can remember, yeah, what order would you like to go in with these? Maybe we'll see Gonzalez. Yeah, yeah. Uppermost. OK. As much as you can see.
Speaker Gonzalez. Persons'. Life and.
Speaker Mm hmm.
Speaker The story of Lucy Gonzalez for me is very inspiring because here is a woman of color that has not only black heritage and comes from history, was born into slavery in a place like Texas.
Speaker And we know the history of Texas in this country in terms of being Mexico territory or Mexican territory at some point. And so she also brings Mexican-American and also Native American experience.
Speaker And so I think for me, it speaks so much about my own background and my own identity as a woman of color who is an immigrant in the US, who also comes from an indigenous background, who comes from a lineage of the experience of indigenous people that were colonized, and that I bring all of that into my existence.
Speaker So that's Misty Sakir, my indigenous roots, also the coloniser all in me, and then coming to the United States as an immigrant woman of color.
Speaker So for me, just her lived experience brings so many connections for my own, you know, background and my own experience, not only in the U.S., but in Ecuador where I was born into. Then look at her inspiring work, leading, organizing and particularly focusing in the labor movement. For me, often in school, you know, in high school, I learned about mainly men that were organizers, civil rights leaders.
Speaker So you hear about Martin Luther King and you hear about others. You know Cesar Chavez, but you don't often get to hear about women that played a critical role in Organizing for Justice and particularly with that lived experience that Lucy had.
Speaker So in college, when they learned about her, it was just such a breakthrough for me to be able to see some of my own connections in her life and to see people that, you know, look like many women of color today in places like Texas who, you know, where people experience a lot of oppression, perhaps much more than many other states of the country. And so for me, it was just such a huge breakthrough and inspiration to get to know about her and to know that it is because of the work that Lucy led back in the time and the inspiration that she probably, you know, gave to so many other women at the time that those have been the pathways that have been created also for women like me to be able to do the work that I do now as a community organizer.
Speaker I imagine you read she was known by the Chicago police, but she was called by the Chicago Police Department. More dangerous than a thousand rioters.
Speaker Yes, I remember that. Yes, yes.
Speaker So Lucy is in Lucy is a clear example of courage and disrupting the status quo, and you see that from her role organizing in the labor movement and then, you know, leaving Texas to live in Chicago, where she was both a worker fighting for her own rights, but also organizing others around workers rights, the way in which she led mobilizations and marches and how her speeches will call attention of the masses, really that, you know, people, including the police, to to fear her and to fear her followers and the ability and the political power that she was building in movements, in communities and founding even the international union, which she did.
Speaker You know, it speaks to her courage and to be completely not conventional in the time, which is inspiring for me, even when I think about my own experience growing up undocumented. And it makes me think about all of the women, you know, from Texas to Chicago to California, Women United We Dream that are also challenging and disrupting the status quo every day by marching, by speaking out. Just recently, we had a team of only women of color within United We Dream who organize large mobilization in Washington, D.C., with over a hundred people and with young people and allies, including faith leaders that put their bodies on the line as they lead acts of civil disobedience to call attention on the crisis of undocumented young people being deported and immigrant communities being so targeted under this administration.
Speaker This was all led, crafted and planned by women of color, by immigrant women from all over the country who are putting their bodies on the line to to organize. So when I think about, you know, how the police fear Lucy, it's just such an inspiration and a model for us to follow as we continue to organize our communities in this moment.
Speaker And what about the of terror, Warren?
Speaker Lena, Lena was I mean, it was OK. The Lena Adelina's Nina. Yes, yes. OK.
Speaker Because I had to, like, let the lawyers work in school.
Speaker So, yes, she she's the first Latina to run for office, right? Yes, yes. Yes.
Speaker On the Republican ticket for Congress. Yeah.
Speaker I think and she also came from a privileged background like, OK.
Speaker And she she fought for bilingual education and that.
Speaker Yeah, yeah, so then the question is like, why do I remember about her or like if I could just describe.
Speaker Yeah, yeah, perfect, perfect, when I think about a Bellina or Nina, as they, you know, called her, I am reminded by the power of women in places like New Mexico where, you know, she was also from.
Speaker And, you know, right now we have one of our strongest groups in United. We dream from Albuquerque, New Mexico. And I think of the rich tradition, the women play in places like New Mexico and building power for communities, but also for being really like Nina was passionate about her culture, her mixed background of, you know, be coming from a Spanish family and others that had settled in New Mexico. And being such a fighter, you know, to keep, for example, bilingual education in places like New Mexico at the time. And he continues to be such a struggle now. But you look at a woman like her and her passion about her own background.
Speaker And, you know, though she was a Republican and you know that I will disagree with those values and agenda from that perspective.
Speaker But one remarkable thing is the inspiration of being one of the first woman there to run for office.
Speaker And, you know, it speaks to, again, how, you know, women often tend to be the leaders in our community, the community organizers, the educators like she was, who are invisible and not recognized and through her work and, you know, not only she again pushed against the odds and disrupted the status quo, but also stars breaking notions of how far you can go in leadership and how far can you put yourself out there and publicly and her, you know, leading with example by running for office. And in many of our communities, like I Betty was in New Mexico at the time, just such an inspiration to show other women that they could do the same.
Speaker Into Zable and Americanist, we're OK. Do you mind saying?
Speaker So late today, Nina, I'm sure through all of her work of being a passionate educator, but also a leader in the community and a community organizer. We often get to be recognized for the work that we're doing, and by her leading and taking the step to run for office, really challenge the notion of how far women can go in leadership. And it was an inspiration probably for many women at the time about what they could do.
Speaker Same thing with Clinton da utils, you remember?
Speaker How do you pronounce her last name, EVAR that? Is that OK?
Speaker How many?
Speaker Great, she can teach us today. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Speaker Yet the most remarkable thing about that for me, it's her writing at a time where having, you know, very radical views about the labor movement, about politics, about the role of women, which is generally about the working class, was it's very remarkable. Her courage of leaving what she was doing, which, if I remember correctly, was teaching to then saying I'm going to, you know, actually write about politics, about justice, and really playing a part which many journalists do today and writers do today of influencing culture and influencing politics and being shapers of social movements and politics.
Speaker And so when I think about her at the time, writing probably something that was not part of the status quo and the courage in doing that and speaking truth to power is the one thing that I take away, you know, that inspires me. And that makes me think about many young journalists and writers today who are living under an environment where the current government is trying to scare them away, really from writing the truth, from reporting the truth. And, you know, I think of her as a model to follow for the courage of speaking truth to power, to what she believe, but also understanding her role as a journalist and as a writer in society, that I think it's a true inspiration, particularly for those today who are also writing their truth and being part of shaping the politics of this moment.
Speaker So, yes, you're right, she she left her career in education following two lynchings, yeah.
Speaker In Texas, lots the Mexican boy's name and started to write for Laconica. Mm hmm. Yeah, I read that. Yes. Yeah.
Speaker It was her brother's right. Or like family owned. OK, do you want to mention that or. OK, newspaper. Newspaper.
Speaker And then I think helped organize the first.
Speaker Well, the Mexican Congress, all right.
Speaker Yes, yes, one of the few women who participated. And that really helped to mobilize.
Speaker Yeah, yeah, yeah, thanks for reminding me of that, because when I read that, I was like, oh, that's like us when we can be in our first Congress of undocumented people. Yeah. Perfect. Perfect, perfect. Um.
Speaker OK, so what is remarkable about Civita for me that draws so many connections to today is that she had the courage to leave what she was doing as an educator after after being a witness to the lynching of Mexican Americans and the courage to leave.
Speaker The educator profession to then join the Chronicle to write about not only the lynchings, but to write about social justice and the need for people to come together to take action, which then led to her being one of the people convening the first national Mexican Congress of Mexican Americans, coming together to talk about their vision, not only what was wrong in their communities and what needed to change, but their vision about this country and their lives in this country.
Speaker And for me, it makes me think about how other young people today and young women today have played the role of being the first conveners of our communities to talk about what's happening in our communities, but to take action together to create change.
Speaker And I was reminded when when I read about her convening this Congress, so I was reminded about our own experience and united we dream in convening our first undocumented youth Congress, which, you know, goes back to the early 2000s when we did it and won the courage that it takes. But the political and historical significance of that, because those spaces of communities coming together to talk about what it's concerning to them and then to craft the plan together for how to address that, which is what came out of the Congress.
Speaker So it's actually the kind of convenience and spaces that end up changing history. And I know that those are going to be pivotal moments when we think about the history and the role of immigrant youth organizing here in this country for immigrant justice.
Speaker But it's also the same when we think about it. Then her role in shaping the first Congress Congreso that planted the seeds for what then became a strong movement led by Mexican Americans.
Speaker So when I think about it, though, when I think about Lucy, when I think about Nina, I think about the fact that we as immigrant women of color and particularly Latinas in the United States, have so many examples of courage and role models to follow. And unfortunately, I often wonder how many of us know about them. I had the opportunity to learn about them through my college education. But when I think about the generation of young Latinas, those in high school right now, those in middle school right now, and even perhaps those in college or those that are not in our education institutions that they don't know about this woman. So one of the first things for me that I take as part of my own work and United We Dream is to ensure that young immigrant women know that they were others before us, not just the latest work back, which is a very visible community organizing figure and social justice leader that we know. And, you know, we're so grateful to still have her with us and who is serving as a mentor for many of us. But then we also have women like them that we're fighting in this country, grounded in their experience as Latinos and in this woman of color in this country. And, you know, the second thing that makes me think about and that I want other young. Women of color and young Latinas to know is that their work, their organizing, their courage really planted the seeds and the pathways for many of us to be able to be community leaders and organizers in this country and in our communities and to feel and to know people from your own community that where where you are perhaps now in bringing people together to talk about what they're concerned about and putting plans together and campaigns together and fighting for social justice in this country, that is a very powerful thing to know for myself as a community organizer, but something that I want all young people of color and particularly women of color in our communities to know and to feel the pressure that I feel to know their stories as Latinas that not only were a key part of the fabric of our country, but they also shaped our country and were part of the movement and shakers of the time to develop the vision and the values that we continue to fight for today.
Speaker What do you tell you today, who wants to become a community organizer or activist? Mm hmm. Specifically, young women and girls, they need to know.
Speaker Yes, stumble into it.
Speaker Hmm, it's like so much, um, but one to be concise, I your work. Yeah, no.
Speaker A united we dream, we have many young women of color and particularly young American women that come into our organization and our network because it's a safe and empowering, empowering space for them. And I think of people like Paola Munoz, who was born in Bolivia and grew up here in the U.S. Her and her family came in the 90s seeking a better life like many immigrants have. And she joined by accident. One of our rallies in Washington, D.C., recently or not recently, actually, last year, she joined a rally last year when we were fighting for the DREAM Act. And Paula was shy. She didn't want to share her name. She didn't want to talk about her story. She didn't even want to share what she was there, but hurt her experience at that rally where she saw young people and young women like her saying things like, I'm undocumented and unafraid and I'm here to stay and this is my home and I'm going to continue to organize for the rights of our communities that had such an impact on her that now she tells me that she was she was in tears as she was hearing and listening to the stories of other young people like her. It's been almost a year since Paula went to that first rally in Washington, D.C. And just this past week, she was the leader of the action that we put together, the mobilization that we put together in Washington, D.C., and to be able to witness the transformation that she went through from being someone really shy at a rally who cried at the stories that she listened to because they spoke to her. But that also gave her the motivation and the calling to join the work that we were doing. And now she is a leader within our network. And just to see the vibrant picture of her with the bullhorn marching in the streets of Washington chanting, We're undocumented, we're unafraid, and then mentoring also young high schoolers that we're joining, you know, our day of action is just such such a powerful transformation to to witness. So when I think about our last story, I think about the experience that I have myself and the experience that I want other young women and young women of color in particular to have. And that is that you are not inferior, you are powerful, your voice matters.
Speaker And by empowering others, we also empower ourselves and we can, like we have done in United, we dream creative spaces where we can empower people to really get rid of all of our fears and be able to be our true, authentic selves. So as young women are joining, you know, community organizing or becoming activists, the main advice for me is be yourself, be your true, authentic self, speak truth to power, and don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do.
Speaker Why is activism and. Why is activism important? Um, well.
Speaker Um, oh, cessations.
Speaker That's OK. And you.
Speaker For me, community organizing and activism is important because it saved my life.
Speaker And I know that for others like me who are young or who are people of color that have been dehumanized in this country by, you know, systematic racism and injustice that have been criminalized for many years, whether that is in our schools or the criminal justice system or at the workplace, I think that organizing and becoming an activist saves your life because it gives you and it gives you the opportunity to have a sense of your own power, even when you think that you don't have any. Like I think about myself and the immigrant youth movement and many may argue that we don't have power because we know we're not voters. But yet, just like the woman of the progressive era where they didn't have the power to vote, they still were the ones that actually shape the culture and the politics of that era. And we are doing the same even as people in communities that don't have the power and the right to vote were still shaping politics. We're still building social justice movement and we're still changing history in this country. By winning campaigns locally, nationally, any gives you a sense of your own humanity and the humanity of others.
Speaker So I see community organizing and activism as both an act of power, but also courage. And I know that for me and many others, it was to save our lives.