Nearly a year ago, on an ordinary afternoon picking up my son from school, I realized there was clearly something wrong with me. My right hand became weak and it was difficult to turn the steering wheel. The right side of my face started to sag and I couldn’t form a clear sentence. But my instinct was to minimize the warning signs in my body and not go to the hospital.
As someone who immigrated from Mexico, I had absorbed messages that I don’t belong here, and that I am not deserving of quality healthcare. I had become used to relying on family and community, not systems, to meet my needs. I had been taught that I should be grateful for what I do have in this country, and that I shouldn’t expect much more.
Luckily, my son insisted that he take me straight to our community hospital in Pueblo. I was diagnosed as having a blockage in the blood vessels supplying my brain. I needed to stay in the hospital for five days to heal enough to go home for the rest of my recovery.
As I was being taken to the hospital, I wanted to turn around and go home. My hesitation to get care when I so clearly needed it was a wake up call. If this same thing had happened to another person in my community, I would have challenged them on why they believed they were less deserving of care. Seeing these beliefs show up in myself motivated me to do the hard work to uproot them. I knew I couldn’t possibly be an effective community organizer and a role model for others if I let these negative messages have power over my life.
I organize primarily among immigrant women who want to fight for a better healthcare system and society for themselves and their families. As I support our leaders to recognize their own self worth and to claim what they deserve, I need to do this difficult work alongside them.
The most important belief that drives my community organizing is that I belong, and that we all belong here. We–immigrants, People of Color, non-English speakers–belong in the spaces where decisions are made that affect our lives.
One way that I’m instilling a sense of belonging to build more power with a multiracial, multilingual base of leaders is by developing our commitment to Language Justice. We practice Language Justice among our staff, leaders, and board. This is more than simply language access through interpretation and translation. We continually identify ways to de-center English. This is one way to challenge the norms we encounter in our systems and daily lives.
Language Justice helps us build relationships across differences, which is the foundation for building community power. We are clear that this is not just an accommodation for non-English speakers. This is a strategy that benefits all of us by challenging beliefs that reflect who is worthy and who deserves to be part of our society. This is one way we are raising the expectations of the immigrant community to want and demand more.
Raising my expectations
By raising my own expectations of what I want and modeling for others that they deserve more, we build our personal power. This changes the expectations we have of our healthcare system, and what we demand. We deserve qualified medical interpreters, not an interpretation app on a tablet. We don’t just deserve access to healthcare; we deserve care from healthcare workers who share our cultural background. As I strengthen these beliefs in my leaders, I strengthen these beliefs in myself.
When I see my comadres out in the community, questioning authority and leveraging their power together to demand healthcare change, I know we have successfully uprooted the beliefs that hold us back. We are setting an example for more and more people in immigrant communities. We are sending a clear message: we belong here and everywhere. We deserve more!
As we launch our campaigns in the upcoming months, look out! We are building a healthcare movement in Colorado where we all belong–across race, class, and immigration status, from our rural communities to the Denver Metro.
¡Si se puede!