My granny was a single mom with nine children ranging from pre-teen to their 30’s by the time I came along. Mom was also on her own, with me. They rented a house and together supported the family. Grandma, the expert cook, with her food stand in El Mercado de San Martin, a small city on the outskirts of San Salvador, and my mom with her factory job.
The civil war (1980-1992) was going strong and unionists fought for better pay and working conditions. Texas Instruments Co. shut down the factory, mom lost her job. Work was scarce; it was time for a last resort. For mom that meant going to the United States to find work to support the family. I was almost five and did not see her again for another four years. In 1989 my aunt and I set out on a road trip to the U.S. She had a toddler and would not see him again until he was 14.
Capitalism blames gay marriage for destroying families. I blame capitalism! Families are separated daily on both sides of the border because of desperate economic conditions created by so-called free trade agreements like CAFTA and NAFTA that benefit only those at the top. In countries like El Salvador it is difficult enough to find work that pays a living wage. Harder if you’re older than 35. And forget about it all together if you’re a woman over 35. More and more the only way out is for people to emigrate to where the jobs are. When they arrive they are often treated as subhuman invaders.
When I first came upon Radical Women (RW) I had only a faint interest in politics. I never expected to learn so much, so fast, about the social conditions and hidden history that affect my daily life — where I come from, as a woman, as a Salvadoran immigrant, as a queer person of color. It’s impossible to ignore these things once you see them! Three years ago if I’d heard about Nestora Salgado or Marissa Alexander, I might have thought, “What a sad story but I can’t do anything about it.”
Class consciousness was not on my radar then. But the RW Manifesto taught me that we really do have inalienable rights and that it is possible to fight for them — if you’re not alone. During a study group on Revolutionary Integration, a founding principle of both RW and our affiliate the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), I learned the true history of the civil rights movement in the U.S. and women’s decisive role in it. And became conscious for the first time that I was part of a huge working class.
That’s when I grasped that standing up against social injustice like bigotry against immigrants, police violence, and racism was just plain necessary. My activism today comes from a personal sense of responsibility for dispelling the lies that are told to prevent us from uniting against our tiny ruling class that could care less about the most afflicted.
As a person of color and an immigrant, one of the things I appreciate most about my political involvement with RW and FSP has been the Comrades of Color Caucus — we call it the CCC, which functions within both organizations, nationally. I’ve learned so much in this caucus. For example, I have legal immigration status and grew up with it. But in the CCC I learned how miserable the lives of undocumented immigrants are, and how pivotal it is for RW and FSP to defend undocumented workers and their families.
Being a woman living under capitalism is tremendously hard. Being a woman of color is very much harder. Analyzing and organizing around these realities, learning and teaching the skills of leadership so necessary for our urgent fight — this is what the CCC does. We are true comrades, of color, loudly denouncing and fighting the brutality of the profiteers, in a country we cannot forget was founded on hundreds of years of racist slavery.
The most important lesson I have learned since becoming an activist, is that this is no time to lament! It is a time for action. A time to unearth our true history as a country and use our power as a class. I can hardly wait for the Freedom Socialist Party convention in Los Angeles this coming May. What an opportunity to come together and strategize in a room full of activist revolutionaries with an awesome amount of collective knowledge. I hope you can come too!
Karla Alegria works in technical support and organizes in Los Angeles for the Free Marissa Now Campaign, immigrant rights, and more. Send feedback to Karla.firstname.lastname@example.org.