An activist for immigrants’ and workers’ rights came to Cal State Northridge Monday to continue a discussion about undocumented employees’ fight for citizenship.
Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was the final speaker in CSUN’s Speak Your Mind series.
Durazo’s presentation, “Immigration: The Human Struggle,” put a spotlight on undocumented workers who are battling to obtain citizenship, living wages, health care coverage and retirement benefits. She also highlighted how these issues are affecting workers in industries such as security, hotel maintenance, truck driving and farming.
To help prove this point, she brought a guest speaker who works for the shipping ports in Long Beach. She also ended her presentation with a short documentary about a demonstration staged by housekeepers, cashiers, lobby attendants and other workers from the hotel industry. The documentary included interviews with some of the employees, and showed images of the protesters marching through the streets with banners that read, “Hard work deserves a living wage.”
Durazo said she came to the discussion expecting a debate. But instead, almost every audience member who stood up and asked a question seemed to agree with her point of view.
But toward the end of the discussion, one student posed a question that some American citizens ask in private conversations: Why are there so many immigrants who have not learned the English language?
Durazo said some immigrants cannot afford to spend the time and money it takes to learn language skills, and after the event ended, other students with immigrant parents said financial aid is sometimes impossible to find when you don’t have a social security number.
CSUN student Angelica Amezzua attended the past Speak Your Mind event with Bill Handel, and she said hearing Durazo talk gave her a chance to understand different perspectives. Amezzua also said she appreciated how Durazo addressed the fact that not all immigrants in Los Angeles are from Latin America.
“There’s this stereotype that says immigrants are basically Mexicans,” Amezzua said. “A lot of people have a bad idea about us. They think we take all the jobs ? But in truth, (immigrants) are just people who come to this country to give a better life to their children.”
Another CSUN student, Johnny Ramirez, agreed with Durazo’s idea that some American citizens are also suffering because companies in the United States and around the world are paying employees wages that are too low.
“I think movements from different communities give us hope,” Ramirez said. “I hope that, within the diverse backgrounds that we all have, we can come together for a common struggle for things like living wages and affordable housing.”
This semester’s series focused on immigration issues, and featured discussions with radio show host Bill Handel and Hector Tobar, the Mexico City bureau chief of the L.A. Times.