Everything is bigger in Texas, but does that include community organizing? Last week a few of us went down the Rio Grande Valley to visit our incredible activists who have been working on creating an educated and saavy group of Latin@s in colonias throughout the Valley. The Texas Rio Grande Valley is a place that is often times forgotten about by the rest of the United States. It is only recently that it has been placed on the map because of the work that our Latina Advocacy Network (LAN) has been doing around the Affordable Care Act and the destructive cuts to women’s health services in Texas – our activists are truly incredible, and right when you think they have surpassed any expectations, they do something else to raise the bar, and really push their activists to the next level.
Our leaders hold “juntas comunitarias,” (community meetings) in different colonias on a daily basis. Some of our more developed colonia leaders come to these meetings equipped with a neighbor or family member by their side to get them involved in the LAN; a pen and paper to write down any information they have learned in the meeting, or an assignment(s) they have taken for an event; and an open heart and mind.
Lucy Felix is our on the ground organizer who works closely with our leaders and activists and helps to coordinate our ground campaign. When speaking to women in new colonias, she always starts the conversation by asking them one simple question: “Who is the most important person in your life?” Think about it. Ask yourself that same question, and yell out the first thing that comes to mind. Did you say “me”? Did you say your family? Or perhaps your partner? It’s interesting to hear one’s response when someone poses a simple, yet complex question like that.
The first thing that came to my mind was my family, because well, I have been taught from a young age that I am nothing without my family, so I should live for them, just as my mom has, and her mom has, and so on. As I thought about my response and looked around the room to hear what other women responded, I felt at peace when it seemed like the majority of the women all responded the same way I did.
Then Lucy looked around, smiled and went on to tell these moms, daughters, Latin@s, that THEY should be the most important person in their life: “Tell me, who is the most important person in your life? It should be you! You tell me who is going to care for your kids if you are sick? IF you don’t care about you, who will? We are taught to always put everyone else ahead of us, but what is going to happen if one day, heaven forbid, something were to happen to you? Who is going to take care of your kids, give them something to eat, be there for them when they come back from school? Some of us have partners, but nothing can replace the role that YOU have in your family. YOU are SPECIAL.” And with that first opening statement, the minds and hearts of the people present at this junta comunitaria, in this new colonia, opened up and were ready to take the first step in learning how to love themselves and start to fight for the things they needed for themselves and the betterment of their family.
We visited three different colonias, who were at different stages of their development: a new colonia that just started meeting recently, one that has been meeting for the past few months, and one stellar colonia that has come together and has made substantial change in their community (as shown here in this video).
The cuts to women’s health services have been completely detrimental to the lives of Latin@s in the colonias. Laura, one of our leaders has an incredible story of how these cuts have changed her life. Because of the cuts, clinics have closed in the area, and it is too expensive for her to pay $50 a month for contraception, when there are things that she has to budget for her family. As a result, Laura is now pregnant. Laura has spoken about the importance of restoring these funds to women’s health services to local politicians, other LAN activists, neighbors, and anyone who asks her for information on why she is active in the LAN.
Transportation has been cut here because people aren’t using the buses. But how can they use the bus, if the primary reason to get on the bus was to access a clinic that closed because of the cuts in women’s health services?
June 27th our Texas LAN is hitting streets and holding what they are calling a “Mega Marcha.” This march is to raise awareness of how these cuts are negatively impacting people all over Texas, and calling for these funds to be restored immediately. Our activists are on the move, and are not going to stop until they achieve their goal. In the meantime, we are going to continue to develop our leaders/activists, and even register eligible voters in the colonias to vote, and encourage them to vote on election day. We want to remind those people in our families and communities who have the privilege to vote, to vote for those of us who don’t have that privilege, but still need our voices heard. Read some more about the Texas Women’s Health Services funding battle here .
MI LOLA, our great LAN based out of Miami has hit the ground running. NLIRH’s MI LOLA coordinator, Jersey Garcia is now working full-time on making Miami a force to be reckoned with. Our visit a month ago has proved to be exactly what MI LOLA needed in order to really make the change that Miami needs right now. Jersey is going to be holding several events in the next few months that focuses on how the Affordable Care Act benefits women — something she likes to call “MamaCare,” instead of “Obamacare,” as well as creating a space where organizations can start to communicate about Reproductive Justice, abortion access, and the importance of adding gender analysis to the work of social justice movements. Keep an eye out for future blogs about MI LOLA’s great work and events. And even more, MI LOLA is working on a civic engagement campaign in Miami as well.
Our LANs have taken 2012 by storm, and it’s only May. Get ready!