Things That Matter

Meet The Organizers Fighting For Childcare Providers Who Are Struggling To Get By

In honor of Labor Day, mitú is running a short series highlighting childcare providers in California and those affected by struggles with childcare. One in three providers in California are Latina. They and others are fighting for a fairer wage, collective bargaining within the government and many other issues.

It’s a cool Friday evening at a Ramona Duran’s house in Long Beach, California, where in her back room she runs Ramona’s Daycare. The daycare serves 14 children from the community, with Duran and her assistant taking on the task of teaching them the vital basics, like their ABC’s, 123’s and colors, as well as important lessons in caring, socializing and understanding the world. Duran’s daycare is more than just a waiting room for children who need a place to stay until their parents can pick them up after work. She takes pride in the special bond she has with the children and parents that she provides childcare.

“The beautiful part is that you receive all the love from the children, the love of the parents,” she says. “They’re grateful to you. You see that they love you.”

CREDIT: Childcare providers meeting at Ramona Duran’s home. Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

Love is what pushes providers to do the work they do and to continue working within a system that’s unreasonably complicated and devalues their work. Childcare providers struggle to get by on less than minimum wage, working upwards of 75 hours a week for as low as $2 an hour. Read our first installment in this series to learn more about childcare provider’s wage struggles.

Love, unfortunately, doesn’t pay the $500 in food many pay per week to feed the children in their care. Love doesn’t cover the rent and high utility bills, the diapers and baby wipes or the educational toys their kids learn and play with. It doesn’t provide them savings for retirement, health insurance or worker’s compensation if they get hurt. And love doesn’t ensure they’re paid on time or even at all.

A group of 20 or so women have gathered at Ramona’s house to discuss these struggles and many others they face as childcare providers. Many have brought their children and grandchildren with them, unable to find childcare for themselves to attend this meeting.

The women are all members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), working together and supporting one another in their fight to sustain themselves and their families. And it is a fight.

CREDIT: Maria Duque leading the meeting with childcare providers. Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

At the head of this meeting is Maria Duque, a 26-year-old organizer for SEIU Local 99. In her pink jeans and purple SEIU t-shirt, Duque stands before the women, fielding their questions, providing information and maintaining order when the providers go off on an agency, the lack of pay or one of the other problems they’re facing.

“As a union, we’re here to help each other, ask questions and share what we learn,” she tells them.

Duque, along with Jovanna Hernandez, 26, and Marianna Arrellano-Renteria, 48, are all organizers with SEIU Local 99, working on the childcare providers campaign to help providers win collective bargaining rights with the state that would enable them to negotiate a living wage, access trainings that would provide better early care and education and to fight for greater access to affordable childcare for families. Sitting inside their LA headquarters, an old Victorian house covered in posters from actions and marches they’ve led, the organizers discuss their work and the women they fight for.

Duque is originally from Ecuador. She came to the U.S. with her family as an undocumented immigrant when she was five. She didn’t realize she was undocumented until she was seven. Her father set up plans of action for Duque in case he and his wife were deported. Years later, Duque’s brother was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“When I saw what happened to my brother, it put things in perspective of how difficult it is to live in this country as an undocumented person,” she says. “That was around the time I started organizing, because I understood that it’s the only way that you can change things and fight towards something better.”

Hernandez was born and raised in East Los Angeles to undocumented parents. Her two older sisters are DACA recipients. Seeing her sisters struggle in the shadows of their citizenship status while she freely could pursue a college education and scholarships made Hernandez realize her privileges. She’s been organizing since high school, charged by the proposed 2006 bill H.R. 4437, which attempted to raise penalties for illegal immigration and classify undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them enter or remain in the US as felons. Her mother also served as a community representative at Hernandez’s school, advocating for students and parents and leading meetings.

“This all led me to be responsible with my privileges,” she says.

Hernandez now works for the same union that represented her mother; the union that won her mother death benefits. Those benefits allowed Hernandez and her sisters to get a college education after her mother died on the job. She now works to ensure childcare providers and their families can get the benefits that will protect them and their families.

CREDIT: Posters at SEIU Local 99. Photo credit: Alex Zaragoza/mitú

Arrellano-Renteria has been on the childcare providers campaign the longest, since 2010. Her parents were both active union members. She became an organizer while working at a cemetery back in 1999, after seeing the poor treatment and inhumane conditions the Latino workers endured on the job and the degradation they received from management. One of those workers would become her husband.

“I realized someone had to step up,” she says. “So I started funneling information to the workers, assisting them and translating stuff for them.”

As Arrellano-Renteria puts it, she is happiest when she’s helping others.

The meetings they host don’t only serve to inform the providers. They also give them a space to spend time with one another. There they can see they’re not alone in their struggles.

“It’s a very lonely industry. You’re working in your own home space. Even though they were kind of all over the place, it was beautiful,” recalls Duque of the meeting at Duran’s home. “They hadn’t seen each other for a while and were finally engaging and talking about problems they’re having with the agencies. I think one of the big components of the house meetings is the chance to connect with each other.”

Leading meetings is no easy feat, but organizers have their way of ensuring everyone is heard and walks away empowered in the knowledge they receive. It’s how they can find strength in numbers, and push each other to fight for their collective progress.

CREDIT: Marianna Arrellano-Renteria at SEIU Local 99. Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

“We’re here working for these women,” says Hernandez. “So the meetings that take place are because providers thought information was important to provide to other women.”

The work of an organizer is slow. It’s pushing at a wall that doesn’t want to budge in the hopes that you can move it even an inch, because that inch can mean a better life and societal progress for the marginalized and disenfranchised.

The work is wrought with disappointments, and also victories that keep them pushing forward. Organizers and providers have worked hard to get bills passed the House of Representatives and Senate. But once their bills make it to the governor’s desk, they’re vetoed almost immediately. Then providers and organizers start all over, vowing to continue until they win.

They saw this just last year with the veto of Senate Bill 548, which would inform providers about training opportunities and help them form and join provider organizations to share their common concerns and advocate for improvements to the state-funded child care system, according to the bill.

“Even with all these obstacles, they’re resilient,” says Duque. “I remember the day after the veto, the providers and union leaders were all clearly affected, but they’re still resilient. They’re still here. There’s that understanding that you’ve still got to fight.”

“That’s why they’re so inspiring. There’s so many problems. Nobody cares about you. Nobody gives funding to you,” says Hernandez. “Yet this work is important. Just because nobody gives more funding or fixes these problems, doesn’t mean that the problems don’t exist. And these providers think, ‘Well, we’ve got to keep moving forward even when we see a bunch of doors shut all the time. We’ll find a window open.’”

CREDIT: Jovanna Hernandex (left) and Maria Duque at SEIU Local 99. Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

There’s no question for the organizers about the need for this work to be done. As Hernandez puts it, the injustices and broken system don’t disappear if they stop organizing. Someone has to do this work, and for her, it’s all she’s ever known. In effect, childcare providers and organizers do their work for the same reasons: because they love those they work with and understand that they provide an important service that benefits children, parents and communities that struggle with poverty and low resources.

“That’s our job, our conversations: to make them feel empowered,” says Hernandez. “To make them realize they have power to change things so they speak up and take action.”

As Arrellano-Renteria puts it, the devaluing of the childcare provider’s work often becomes internalized.

“It isn’t until recently through all the work that we’ve been doing that providers themselves are starting to take notice and say ‘I’m not a babysitter. I just never thought about it,’” she says. “Or ‘I am an educator.’ Perpetuating the same stereotypes that the general public would have had for them is part of the problem. Now all providers are hip to that.”

Early education is proven to be a vital part of a child’s development, often setting their path for success in education and their later careers. Education is instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty in communities of color and low-income communities. There are plenty of organizations and campaigns that champion early education, like Head Start and First 5. However, childcare providers are often forgotten in the discussion of early education, despite serving as early educators to countless children. Their work can mean the success of a little person who was born into the world already at a disadvantage. As Hernandez puts it, “If you fix education, you can fix poverty.”

“Early education is so important. There’s a reason why at higher education institutions, the demographic makeup looks a specific way,” she adds. “And that’s because not everyone has the same opportunities in early education. I think once they’ve entered a school, it’s already too late. They need to know their colors, their numbers, their letters, and childcare providers teach this to the children.”

And so organizers fight to protect them and ensure they can do their work, sustain themselves and be present in the creation of the legislature that will affect their lives and the lives of the children and parents. Especially considering their selflessness.

“One of the providers I spoke to yesterday was telling me how she can’t charge a private family what the agency is paying her,” says Duque. “She says ‘Whatever the mom can pay, with that we can make it work.’ They’re selfless. They do the work they do because not only do they love it, but because they’re there for the children.”

“That’s why I’m out there assisting providers to really focus on themselves and what they do as educators,” adds Arrellano-Renteria. “Because one provider with a house of 14 kids, they’re the ones that are superheroes going out and changing lives. If I can inspire the provider, the provider is going to change the world.”

The organizers have their eyes set on 2018, when the California gubernatorial seat and other important seats in the different houses of government will be open for midterm elections. They plan on backing candidates that will fight for providers and give them that collective bargaining power. And while they’ve seen disappointment, the organizers believe it can happen.

“This campaign is all about faith,” says Hernandez. “Reason doesn’t get us anywhere. Clearly, families are in need, children are in need. Reason would give us funding, but this all about ‘do you value this work?'”

READ: Childcare Providers Are Fighting For Their Livelihoods And A Seat At The Table

Like the second installment of our Childcare Providers series? Then make sure to share by clicking that button below!

Camilla Cabello Appears Alongside Latina Activists And Game Changers For Time Magazine’s Newly Launched ‘Time 100 Next’

Things That Matter

Camilla Cabello Appears Alongside Latina Activists And Game Changers For Time Magazine’s Newly Launched ‘Time 100 Next’

camila_cabello / Instagram

This week, Time Magazine launched the first edition of its TIME 100 Next list. The new list, which is meant to expand upon Time’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, which was first published in 1999, is meant to honor the rising stars of industries such as activism, art, and health.  

Not surprisingly, many of the honorees are Latinos!

Camila Cabello Time’s Big Artist 

Grammy-winning recording artist Alejandro Sanz writes about Cuban artist and upcoming actress Camila Cabello in the TIME magazine profile writing that she “is a pure and magnetic artist. We met a few years ago at the Latin Grammys, and shortly afterward, she told me that she wanted to sing together. In all my years in this industry, Camila was the first artist I’ve ever told that she could pick whatever song she wanted to sing.”

In his piece about Cabello, Sanz reiterates Cabello’s career writing that following her success with Fifth Harmony she began recording as a solo artist and worked to bring the roots of Latin music to a  broader audience. “In times like these, when noise can distort the purity of an artist’s message, Camila has managed to honor her story and her background in an authentic way with her pop music. The impact of her songs—from ‘Havana’ and ‘Señorita’ to ‘Shameless’ and ‘Liar’—has opened the door so that the world can see and hear the massive potential of the Latin music community.”

Vanessa Luna The Big Time Leader 

Writer Jasmine Aguilera explained that Vanessa Luna was working as an educator in Los Angeles in 2014 when one of her student’s parents had been deported. The incident gave Luna “an up-close view of how immigration policy can impact a child’s education. Three years later, the educator and DACA recipient co-founded ImmSchools, a nonprofit that trains teachers to better support America’s millions of children with undocumented family members by creating more inclusive classroom environments. In ImmSchools’ first 12 months, 960 students and their families participated in its programs—which include know-your-rights workshops and college-admissions guidance—and Luna, who was named a 2019 Roddenberry Fellow, says the nonprofit will reach more than 1,000 educators this fiscal year. “It shouldn’t be luck that an undocumented student gets what they need in school.”

Jess Morales Rocketto The Innovator 

@latinbowl/ Twitter 

Former Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton writes in her Times piece that “you couldn’t miss Jess Morales Rocketto during my 2016 campaign: she was the young woman standing on top of a cabinet, leading hundreds of staff and volunteers in a rousing chant. After the election, she used her passion, digital savvy and activist experience to facilitate the protests that cropped up at airports across America. She joined the National Domestic Workers Alliance, tackling issues from economic justice to immigration reform. Faced with the crisis at the border, Jess helped lead efforts to reunite every child with their loved ones. And after witnessing the power of women’s activism, she helped launch Supermajority, an organization dedicated to gender equity. She is not only tireless—she is fearless.”

Silvia Caballero the Innovator 

Senior Time’s writer Jeffrey Kluger describes Caballero, microbiologist and immunologist, as a researcher determined to save lives. According to Kluger, Caballero graduated from Weill Cornell Medical College in 2009 eventually began to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she developed a lab mouse with a gut that replicates the human systems infected by drug-resistant bugs. “She then turned the bodies of the mice against the invaders, discovering natural bacteria within the gut that could beat back the infection,” writes Kluger. “Now working for Vedanta Biosciences in Massachusetts, she heads the company’s multidrug-resistant organism decolonization program, whose goal is to do for people what Caballero did for the mice. Her treatment protocol could go into early trials in two years.”

Alexandra Rojas The Advocate 

Time / Twitter 

Writing about Alexandra Rojas, the executive director for Justice Democrats, TIME’s correspondent Charlotte Alter writes that “Rojas and her team recruit and train primary challengers—often young, working-class people of color—to unseat less progressive incumbents. In 2018, they helped elect what’s now known as the Squad: Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Now Rojas is working to turn that momentum into more electoral power by building a bench of young progressives in Congress. So far, her group has endorsed eight new candidates running for congressional seats in 2020, including 26-year-old immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, who has already raised more than seven times Ocasio-Cortez’s 2017 total. “

Paula Jofré A Chilean Innovator  

As Kluger describes in a separate profile about Jofré,  the Chilean researcher believes humans have a lot in common with the stars. “The sun and other stars are a lot like people: they’re born, they age, and they die. Oh, and they have relatives,” writes Kluger. “Jofré, of Diego Portales University in Chile, had along with anthropologist Robert Foley of the University of Cambridge when the two began musing that stars birthed in particular parts of the universe could be elementally related because they condense out of the same interstellar clouds. Since then, they have studied the chemical spectra of the sun and 21 other local stars, and indeed found the equivalent of genetic connections and even a family tree. With trillions more stars across the universe, there are a lot more ancestral connections to be made.”

A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta


A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

George Ballis / Take Stock

Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez are often considered the leaders in the farmworkers rights movement. The two have done a lot to better the lives of those working in the fields, but a new documentary is highlighting a forgotten hero in the farmworkers rights movement. “Adios Amor” is highlighting the work of Maria Moreno, who fought for their rights before Huerta and Chavez continued her work.

Before Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, there was Maria Moreno, the first female farmworker to lead a union.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

 Adiós Amor—The Search for Maria Moreno, is a feature film that examines the life and death of the obscure labor leader. Moreno was a migrant mother who sacrificed everything but her twelve kids in the pursuit of justice for farmworkers. During the late ’50s and ’60s, Moreno’s work led poor agricultural workers into a movement that would later capture the heart of the nation. 

The discovery of forgotten photographs taken more than fifty years ago sparked the search for an unsung hero. A migrant mother haunted by a personal tragedy who rolled up her sleeves, collected signatures, and electrified audiences with her gift for public speaking for a cause she believed in.

Moreno was the first female farmworker in America to be hired as a union organizer. She was elected by her fellow Mexican American, Filipino, Black and Okie farmworkers to represent them. Her charisma attracted crowds, but it also got her into trouble with her labor bosses who fired her for being so outspoken. 

The film’s director and producer Laurie Coyle found photos of Moreno tucked away in an archive.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Were it not for the Maverick photographers and journalists who captured Maria’s legacy, her story might have been lost. Coyle has said that the idea for the project began after she found the images captured by late farmworker photographer George Ballis. The photos depict Moreno speaking in front of crowds and meeting with workers in the fields of California, racing to events with her children and husband.

“She had this piercing gaze and always seemed to be surrounded by children,” Coyle told Shoot Online. “I couldn’t help but be captivated.”

Coyle began researching about Moreno. But the whereabouts of the activist later in life remains a mystery. The search for Moreno guides the documentary, where characters fade in and out like ghosts. From California’s Great Central Valley to the Arizona desert and U.S.-Mexico border, the journey tells Moreno’s story with passion and humor. The director soon discovered radio journalist Ernest Lowe, who had followed Moreno during her days as a union leader and had also been enchanted by her charisma. 

Moreno and her family were traveling farmworkers following the crops.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Born to a Mexican immigrant father and Mescalero Apache mother, in Karnes City, Texas; Moreno and her family were nomadic farmworkers for years. Following the crops, their travels took them to Utah, California, Arizona, and Texas. 

In April 1958, Moreno started her union activism following a flood that pushed many workers into starvation. Coyle found that one of her sons went blind temporarily due to extreme hunger. “How do you think that I feel … seeing my son blind only because we don’t got nothing to eat?” Moreno said in one passionate speech. “(Meanwhile), some other tables are full and wasting food.”

In a time of unprecedented abundance, farmworkers lived in dire poverty, and Maria Moreno set out to change that.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

A deeply human drama is brought to the viewers’ attention, Mexican-American farmworkers living in dire poverty at a time of unprecedented abundance. An abundance sustained by impoverished peoples’ faith, family values, and working-class culture. 

Adios Amor – The Search for Maria Moreno pays tribute to the people whose hard work feeds the nation, and celebrates the courageous woman who told their story to the world.

She gained support from Oklahoma migrants, Filipino American workers, and Latino pickers, and was active in the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a union that was sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

“It was so unusual for a woman like her back then to be in this position,” Coyle told Shoot Online. “The first time I understood that she was somebody different was when she went to (University of California,) Berkeley,” Martha Moreno Dominguez, her daughter, said in the film. “I realized who my mother really was … I said, wow, you know. Here’s my mother, a second-grade education doing this.”

Eventually, Moreno was forced out of the union and left California to practice her faith.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Eventually, in 1962, Moreno was forced out of the fight due to jealousy and disagreements within the union. Documents show an AFL-CIO official accused her of misspending and she was forced to step down from leadership.

“She wasn’t afraid to say whatever she had to say,” Gilbert Padilla, co-founder for the United Farm Workers, told Shoot Online. “I assume that’s why they got rid of her.”

Coyle’s research found that when Cesar Chavez began to form his own farmworkers union, he purposely kept Moreno out of it, seeing her as a “big mouth”, and a possible rival.

Moreno’s children say she left California for a remote part of the Arizona desert, 100 miles west of Phoenix, where she asked God for guidance. Later in her life, Moreno became a Pentecostal minister along the US-Mexico border in San Luis, Arizona. She sought to transform society one soul at a time, instead of focusing on systemic change. Maria Moreno died in 1989, largely forgotten.

Watch the trailer below.

The film is set to premiere Friday, September 27 on most PBS stations.

READ: Dolores Huerta The Latina Freedom Fighter Who Taught Us ‘Sí Se Puede’ Has Been Arrested Over 20 Times