A Latina’s journey from education to activism

A woman speaks at a microphone. She has green-dyed hair and a shirt reading Black Trans Queer.
Alegria-Gimeno speaks at the Freedom Socialist Party convention in Tukwila, Wash., October 2019. PHOTO: Kathleen Merrigan / FS
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When I was younger, I could not understand why some people struggled so much more than others. Being pretty low on the socio-economic hierarchy, my immigrant family was poor, but not destitute. The trade-off was hardly seeing our mom because she was always working — a necessity for our survival.

Being the oldest often meant helping to care for my younger siblings. This is routine in an immigrant community. Childcare is regularly pitted against paying rent, buying groceries or making a car note. It was the same for most of my friends at school. Until I was much older, I thought this was the case for most families. Later, I understood the higher people were on the economic ladder, the more access they had to basic necessities like housing, transportation, child care and education.

Then, I was invited to a study group on Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, and sauntered into that class to accompany a friend. I expected the theory to fly over my head. Instead, the discussion made the ideas accessible, real and relatable. We analyzed Leon Trotsky’s writing on how revolutions occur, who makes them, and why they are inevitable. Then we connected it to current events and our own situations.

Suddenly it clicked. My problem and the problem of my family was capitalism! The owners of corporations make profit from our labor and (grudgingly) pay us, the workers, barely enough to survive, to come back tomorrow, and to toil again. I learned that every single right we have was won through strategic organizing. AND, it takes a fight to keep them.

I thought about how driver licenses in California for undocumented immigrants were routinely issued when my aunt and I arrived in 1989. That is, until 1993, when Senate Bill 976 passed. It required proof of citizenship or legal residency to get a California state ID or Driver’s License. This put the lives and livelihoods of many of my neighbors who worked in construction, landscaping and other jobs that require driving for a living, at risk. For new arrivals, a driver’s license was out of the question. The most basic rights I had as a US Citizen would have been out of reach for most of my family had we arrived later.

But persistence pays. After a 30-year battle waged by immigration rights activists against the state of California, undocumented immigrants can finally be licensed drivers — again.

Sometimes as working people of color, we think we have to wait until we know more about being an organizer, about politics, about this or that before we get involved in a movement. The truth is, we are who should lead. What we really have to know is where we stand. Do we stand for the rights of working-class folks to make a living, have adequate healthcare, housing and education? In my experience, most folks will answer yes. To be part of a principled organization that aims to train leaders and build movements to demand an economy run and organized by workers is a great way to get a political education. I now have a vehicle to understand where I come from, how we got here as a society and what we need to build a better future internationally.

A world on fire! Across the globe working people are rising up against repressive governments — in Chile, Haiti, Colombia, Iran, Hong Kong, the growing LGBT movement in my home country, El Salvador, Indigenous people in Brazil — all fight for their livelihoods and for life on the planet. In the U.S., teachers, and mental health care employees — to name a few — fight for the better wages and working conditions they need to provide services to their clients, the public. As a wage earner myself, I recognize the power of workers. I joined the Freedom Socialist Part to be part of the struggle, but more. I joined to do it in unison with like-minded people with a principled program rooted in socialist-feminist internationalism. This is where I belong. A place I didn’t know I needed, but I deeply longed for.

Send comments to the author at karlafspla@gmail.com.

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