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IDEPSCA: Instituto De Educación Popular del Sur de California

Loyda Alvarado
Date Published: 
June 16, 2007

When people think of an immigrant, they often think of Latino men standing outside of hardware stores. For some it represents cheap labor, for others it’s more of a nuisance; it’s men drinking on the street, gambling, sexually harassing women that pass by; the list could go on. It is often forgotten that day laborers are fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, and friends. Because they are so visible, they symbolize the face of the Latino immigrant in the United States, which makes them vulnerable to attacks.

This image also ignores the numerous female immigrants that are an important part of the underground economy. Many of these women are single mothers or are another source of income for families that bring in poverty wages. These wages may be earned in houses where they clean with dangerous chemicals, without necessary protection, and without healthcare benefits to take care of their bodies. That they are exposed to unbearable working situations and injustices, such as sexual harassment in the workplace and exploitation is also often ignored.

The Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a more humane and democratic society that responds to the needs and problems of disenfranchised people through leadership development and educational programs based in Popular Education methodology. Our work has historically focused on the Latino immigrant community.

We have been able to organize and educate low-income Latino immigrants and provide them the tools to stand up for their rights as workers, but also as human beings. IDEPSCA’s commitment to immigrant workers’ rights shows in the programs that it offers our community. Through the services that IDEPSCA provides, such as the Day Laborer Program and the Household Cleaners Program we are able to continue our efforts in organizing our community on issues that affect their everyday lives, such as racism, educational iniquities, lack of affordable housing and workers’ rights and providing safe spaces. Through these efforts, our participants have gained experience in protecting each other and engaging the world around them.

Withstanding attacks

Unfortunately, our work is often interrupted by attacks on the immigrant Latino community. Not only do we have to deal with racism from such groups as the Minutemen and Save Our State, but also with direct attacks from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—the legal body targeting our community. It is an everyday occurrence to hear that hundreds of immigrants have been detained, that there are checkpoints in different areas of the city (of course, where immigrants work and live), or that raids are being conducted inside public transportation buses and trains.

Families are being separated. People are being stripped from their homes and the security of being able to provide for themselves and their families. But, worst of all is the fear that people have to live with. The fear of not knowing whether or not one will be able to return home safely, the fear of being separated from one’s children, of picking them up from school and finding out that they are not there, that they have been detained by immigration, or that they might return home and nobody will be there to receive them.

It is unfair to be detained just for looking for an opportunity that has been denied in our countries of origin because of NAFTA and other trade agreements that limit life chances. I see people walking their children (or somebody else’s children) to school, day laborers waiting and hoping to work for at least a couple of hours to survive. I see students with the potential to be great leaders. Yet all that “el mal gobierno” (the bad government) sees is a problem and an expendable work force.

As an immigrant Latina organizer I have been exposed to the injustices that are being committed against our community and experienced them firsthand. Coming from a low-income household where my mother had to work six to seven days a week cleaning houses, taking care of somebody else’s children and barely making enough money to pay for basic needs, I have seen the hard labor and dedication that was put into her work. With that same dedication, millions of immigrants can better organize for their human rights.

What has and will continue to make a difference is the work that organizations such as IDEPSCA have been doing in educating our community and in serving as stepping stones for something better, creating leadership among our people. No longer do we sit here and stay quiet, no longer do we bear being the target of discrimination and attacks.

It is inspiring to see how the organizing work of many bears fruit; workers from our centers have held demonstrations against radio stations like AFI that promote racism. Workers have negotiated with their employers for better wages, or rallied in front of employers’ houses or workspaces to demand being paid what they’re owed. Parents are getting involved with their children’s education.

We are taking the streets on May Day to participate in actions that show the potential that organizing can have. Knowing the consequences that these actions may have, workers have made a stand and will continue to do so in order to take the place in society that they deserve. We know that this fight is not ours alone, that we are not the only victims of imperialism, and so we are marching with the Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network (MIWON) this May Day. I urge our allies, all those grassroots organizations and activists to continue working diligently that the masses may be aware of the injustices and ignorance that we all are subject to. The People should not live in fear of their government, but rather learn to be the ones in charge of change. The government should fear the power that the people hold. In solidarity.