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The Leaders Our Movement Needs

Every day at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), a Latina immigrant community based organization in California, I have the opportunity to witness immigrant women as courageous compassionate and effective leaders in our movements to end violence. The same woman who enters our office head down her voice a whisper as she says her name and what brought her to our door quickly transforms into the booming voice behind a megaphone asking “What do we want” and waiting for the crowd to shout back “Justice!” She stands in front of legislators speaking her truth of what it means to labor for 24 hours straight caring for another family’s children for just $5 a day while thinking constantly of her three children back in El Salvador growing up without their mom. She sits with another woman who has just shared a story of emotional and physical abuse that could have been her own, looks her in the eyes, and asks simply and powerfully, “What do you want to do now?”

In order for immigrant women to be the courageous, compassionate, and effective leaders that we know them to be we must tell them with our words and our actions that this is how we and our movements see them. We must open up space for their leadership. And it behooves us to do so. Immigrant women — whose lived experience means that they sit at the intersection of race and class and who experience the connection between so many of the core issues we are fighting for every day – are exactly the leaders we need for our movement(s) in this moment. Because when they lead – our issues cannot remain in silos. You can’t ask an immigrant woman to divide herself into hundreds of parts to advocate for the multiple issues that impact her life everyday. She sees, understands, and talks about the intersections – between violence and jobs and health and education and immigration policy all at once – because they happen to her all at once.

And over the past year, we have seen immigrant women step forward with deep courage. Dozens of MUA’s own undocumented members participated for the first time in nonviolent civil disobedience as part of We Belong Together’s push for a pathway to citizenship. Women who perhaps in the eyes of others might be seen as “victims” were anything but. It takes courage to leave your child at home, board a plane not knowing if the documents you present will simply be glanced at or cause for a TSA agent to call in ICE, sit down in a busy intersection in Washington DC with hundreds of other women knowing that when you are arrested you might not be released – you might be sent to a detention center and be put in deportation proceedings.  Immigrant women have been at the forefront of Not One More’s campaign to end the deportation putting their bodies on the line to block buses leaving detention centers and local prisons to stop the tearing apart of immigrant families. The leaders of our movements desperately need are the immigrant women who have come out of the shadows and decided that it is time to proclaim to the world “I am undocumented and unafraid.”

It can be that simple – an immigrant woman, a survivor of violence, who sees herself as powerful begins to discover the multitude of adjectives that describe who she is and what she is capable of. And as a result she finds strength and courage to lead in powerful ways. When our movement and our organizations see and recognize this power and make this shift as well we will discover that we are sitting on a force capable of transforming not only individual lives but entire communities.


MUA - Mujeres Unidas y Activas

MUA is a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women with a dual mission of personal transformation and community power. Creating an environment of understanding and confidentiality, MUA empowers and educates our members through mutual support and training to be leaders in their own lives and in the community. Working with diverse allies, MUA promotes unity and civic-political participation to achieve social justice.

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