Report…Rural Latino Leadership Retreat

At the Rural Latino Leadership Retreat this past weekend, something powerful happened. I heard my compañeros and compañeras expressing themselves without fear of retaliation – and with the freedom to talk in their native language. A room united by one voice, a voice of freedom, courage and justice, this time being spoken in Spanish, interpreted into English and vice-versa.  This last Saturday I finally understood why the oppressive system will do whatever it takes to keep  us from talking to each other, from uniting our voices, especially when it comes to our social justice movement.

That is the reason that here at ROP we are very proud to offer this space to our Rural Latino/a Leaders in Oregon . The retreat was a success! Over 50 people came from 12 different counties to share the different approaches being used to change the current climate of “Fear” and “Isolation” to a more “Welcoming” and “Inclusive” community. It was clear that through years of hard work at the grassroots level in rural Oregon we’ve all been “Building Safe and Welcoming Communities for Immigrants”. We are taking the right, intentional steps so this change can gradually happen throughout Oregon.

We had very inspiring, motivating presenters.  For example Jorge Hernandez from Centro de Ayuda expressed his feelings about Latino Organizing in Lincoln County: “We have lost our fear, we are not afraid anymore…… we are not going to let [them] violate our civil rights anymore”.  Francisca Perez from Adelante Mujeres said: “When someone has a need it’s like they’re missing a body part, what are you willing to do to help that person?”

Araceli Ortiz, manager for the famous Adelante Chicas youth development program, spoke from the heart about being the first woman in her entire extended family to graduate college, and how much Latino youth need us to be there for them.  If we don’t show them the way forward, nobody will.

Luis Guerra and Brenda Mendoza, from CAUSA and PCUN respectively, talked about their personal experience with becoming US Citizens. They shared the most common myths among the Latino community about citizenship and the benefits that come with it: electoral power and no more fear of deportation.

Lauren Regan from the Civil Liberties Defense Center presented “Know your Rights” prepared especially for immigrants to learn how we can defend our rights. Lauren also trained leaders to give this presentation back in their small-town communities.

Javier Lara, an organizer from PCUN talked about how Wage Theft affects individuals, families and Oregon as a whole and the solution to it, pass legislation in 2013 to protect workers.

Amanda Aguilar Shank, our very own ROP Organizer, and Aeryca Steinbauer from CAUSA talked about the links in the chain of deportation – including the recent “Secure Communities” program – and how we all can tackle the chain in different places to put a stop to ICE/Police Collaboration that is tearing families apart across the nation.

We would also like to express our immense gratitude to our hosting human dignity group: Mujeres Latinas Luchando por el Pueblo. They did such a wonderful job in hosting all of us. The retreat went smoothly thanks to the awesome job they did before, during and after the retreat, Gracias Mujeres!

We had some fun and shared with each other over the delicious food that Antonia Villa, member of the hosting group “Mujeres Latinas Luchando por el Pueblo”, was preparing since 4:00 am that Saturday morning for all of us to have a nutritious and authentic Mexican meal.

Language justice was achieved on Saturday with the help of our loving and long-time friends Sarah Loose and Lindsay Jonnasson from the Northwest Justice Project. They did a great job at interpreting in both languages, thank you so much for helping us to make communication accessible to everyone!

Jerry Atkin, a past ROP board member and long-time friend and ally helped us with taking beautiful photographs of the retreat. Sarah Loose also filmed our panel in which Mujeres Latinas Luchando por el Pueblo, Latinos Unidos para un Futuro Mejor and Umatilla Morrow Alternatives shared with all of us their successes and challenges organizing around unpopular and wedge issues in our small communities.

At the retreat we witness new allies being open to be educated about issues affecting both immigrants and receiving communities, asking sincere questions. Receiving communities, slowly but surely, are becoming more open and welcoming to newcomers and long-time immigrant residents, even when at times it doesn’t feel that way. This change is happening through the cross-cultural work that several Human Dignity groups have been doing for years in our rural and small towns in Oregon.

The reward for us was to see so many smiling faces, people absorbing as much information as possible, making those human connections and building on current relationships to support each other to keep fighting for basic human rights and human dignity, innate in all of us for all of us.

I would also like to share a quote that I shared at the retreat. Rigoberta Menchu is an indigenous Guatemalan woman who won the Peace Nobel Prize in 1992. She said: “We are not going to change the country in a short period of time. But it will change with all of us, not without us.” (No vamos a cambiar el país en poco tiempo. Pero se hará con nosotros, no sin nosotros.”)