Giving Back to the Latino Community through Operation Access

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Angelica Gutierrez, Operation Access Program Manager East Bay

As a first generation immigrant, raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, my family left our home in Nicaragua because of a violent revolution.  Growing up, I maintained a great sense of pride in my community, the Latino community.  Although I initially chose a career in Global Business and Finance, I realized I needed to work with people instead of numbers. I returned to school and earned certifications as a Community Health Worker and Medical Interpreter. With this training, I found my passion: giving the Latino community a voice. Working at Operation Access (OA) gives me a platform for expressing my passion by serving the health needs of Latinos otherwise abandoned by the U.S. healthcare system.

Having access to basic and specialty health care is vital to the overall well-being and quality of life of any individual.  Operation Access allows me to directly help the undocumented Latino community in the East Bay (Contra Costa and Alameda County) through the coordination of specialty outpatient and diagnostic procedures, as well as interpreting for them during medical appointments. Contra Costa County has an especially urgent need for our program because the county provides no health safety net for its undocumented people.

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Operation Access volunteers helping a family

Community clinics in Contra Costa and Alameda counties refer clients to OA who need specialty care and surgical procedures. We are experiencing an increasing demand for our services—Contra Costa referrals have increased by over 40 percent in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2016 alone, OA staff and volunteers have provided over 400 donated services to undocumented individuals in the East Bay, most of whom are Latino. Typical services include colonoscopies that diagnose or prevent colon cancer and corrective surgical interventions that avert more complicated, emergent medical conditions, reducing long-term harm and suffering. Our program improves quality of life and livelihood for people with limited access to specialty care.

I call on fellow Latinos because we have the power to help heal our community. OA needs funding for our program, and we urge you to donate what you are able. We also need volunteers. If you are a nurse, doctor, or other medical professional, we invite you to join our team of medical volunteers. If you’re fluent in Spanish, we ask you to consider joining us for an interpreter training to provide this vital service for OA in doctor’s offices. And, if you have administrative skills, we welcome your assistance in our office. Please contact me at 415-733-0080 or at angelica@operationaccess.org if you can join our team and help our clients in need.

A Mother’s Sacrifice: Why this Latina is Mobilizing for a More Inclusive California

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My mom changed the trajectory of my life when she crossed the US-Mexico border with me in her womb. At four months pregnant and with my two kid brothers in tow, she traversed through the dusty hillsides of Tijuana, Baja California, in pursuit of opportunity. Mi mama worked tirelessly to raise me and my five siblings, and because she sacrificed her dreams, we continue to achieve ours.

I knew civic engagement was important when I realized that my story was not a singular experience. Stories of educational inequity, lack of access to health care, unemployment, and immigration are common weavings that make up the Latino experience here in Los Angeles.

But even louder than these experiences, is the ORGULLO and resilience reflected by mi gente in this city. I see it in the dance parties in Mariachi Plaza on Sunday nights, in the activism and marches through Downtown LA, and in the energy I feel every time I step foot through LA’s vibrant vecindades.

I am voting on November 8th because I want to choose leaders, propositions and policies that will foster sustainability and strengthen my community.

I am voting for my future, for opportunities, for innovative approaches to change and for a more inclusive California. I want to see action that reflects the kindness and tolerance that my Mom continues to instill in us.

Vamonos!

Let’s do this!

There is so much power in the Latino experience and voice. We are a bridge to solutions. Go out and vote on November 8th and show these candidates that we are a force to be reckoned with!

About Karla Torres: Karla Torres is a community leader and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Social Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business. She is passionate about empowering women and disenfranchised communities, and has developed several programs to increase access to employment and college attainment for minority youth.

To join Karla in voting this election, register to vote online by going to www.latinos-vote.com or text LATINOS to 384-387 to register! It only takes a few minutes.

My Latina Giving Circle Is My Home Away from Home

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Cecilia’s citizenship celebration

By Isidra Mencos

In August 2016, seven years after she came to the U.S. to reunite with her American fiancé, Marc, and later marry him, Cecilia became an American citizen. “It was one of the best days of my life,” recalls Cecilia. “The ceremony was beautiful. The judge said that the U.S. has talent coming from all over the world and that immigrants bring the best to this country. I felt so welcomed!”

Cecilia, previously a green-card holder, had been reluctant to consider U.S. citizenship. After she had her son Bruno, who is now 1 year old, it became a family priority, so they would never be apart in case of an emergency. Another factor that encouraged her to take this big step was the upcoming election. “It’s very scary to see the current politics of hate,” she says. “Before, I felt that if I became a US citizen it would be a treason to Mexico, but now I think that not voting in the U.S. election, if I have the opportunity to do so, is a treason to Mexico and the U.S.”

According to the American Immigration Council, there are over 8 million legal immigrants eligible for naturalization, but only around 800,000 complete the process every year. At $680 dollars for each adult, its cost is a significant hurdle. The fee, however, will only go up every year, and there are significant advantages to becoming a US citizen. Research has shown that being a U.S. citizen can improve your income, workforce productivity and social integration. For Cecilia, having a voice in the political process is also a huge incentive. “Latinos are a significant part of the population and we can make a difference in each election,” she asserts emphatically. “Becoming a citizen is the best way to have a say and to make a change. If you didn’t make it for this election, it doesn’t matter. There are a lot of elections coming up. Better start now the naturalization process, than never!”

Cecilia is very proud of her roots and plans to keep her Mexican citizenship and raise her son bicultural and bilingual. But her job as an online inventory planner for an American corporation and her marriage to a non-Spanish speaker, left her feeling a bit disconnected from her heritage. She was able to fill the gap when she joined the Latino Community Foundation’s Latinas Giving Circle of San Francisco, a philanthropic organization that invests in Latino-based grassroots non-profits. “Being part of this group of inspiring Latinas is like having my little bit of home in the U.S.,” explains Cecilia, “and it also connects me to my culture’s values. In Mexico there is such a big gap between poor and rich, that from a young age you’re taught to give back. The Giving Circle is the perfect way to do it, because my donations have more impact than if I grant them individually.” From her participation in the election, thanks to her brand new citizenship, to her philanthropic efforts, the Latino values of giving back and engaging with social change are shaping Cecilia’s public path.

Please register to vote and encourage others to do the same. We have 2 simple ways to register: register online by going to www.latinos-vote.com or text LATINOS to 384-387 to register! It only takes a few minutes.

The Latino Dinner Table: Why aren’t we talking politics?

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By: Lacy Maria Serros

Imagine eating dinner with new friends, drinking a glass of red wine and being asked, “so, what’s going on with your people in America?” I was living abroad in Europe and was the only American, and the only one with Latino heritage. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into being the spokesperson for all things American or Latino.

Politics, however, kept surfacing in one way or another – what is it about the dinner table and politics?

Whenever the comparisons of European countries to the U.S. would start, I couldn’t help but feel a little ashamed. The criticism would typically start in generalizations, but ultimately, it was about the most pressing and highly publicized issues facing the U.S. – racism, gun violence, police brutality, to name a few.

However, the conversation was always rooted in a question about how the U.S. is going to elect its next president and continue to be an economic leader globally. The underpinning of this elicit question was if the American people would actually vote.

Anytime that I was challenged with this, I shared personal experiences about how I started organizing by walking door-to-door registering Latinos to vote or how in one of my previous roles as a funder I collaboratively provided resources to large national groups that conduct voter protection activities (i.e. bilingual poll monitors).

But, the theme of these conversations is that America has a problem with race, and that we as a people do not know or care to know anything about world affairs, let alone about our own country. To be honest, there were days when I didn’t want to return to the U.S. because of the growing racial tensions, the threat of and actual deaths in Black and Latino communities, and the ensuing apathy of people saying that they weren’t going to vote.

However, as I lamented over how the U.S. was being portrayed at European dinner tables and through the media, community organizations, outspoken celebrities, and other justice leaders across this country were mobilizing people to get and remain active in our democracy. The most prominent example is that of the Black Lives Matter movement, its growing base of supporters and its influence on America’s conversation about race.

Whether we want to admit it, the Latino discourse is not nearly as organized. That is not to say that our community isn’t having difficult conversations about race, or that there aren’t some serious efforts and successes to organize, empower and activate social change within the diverse Latino communities across the country. But, we need to do more.

Maybe we need to bring politics to the Latino dinner table. Maybe we aren’t talking enough about the issues, solutions and the power of our democracy.

We’re still referred to as the “Sleeping Giant,” yet there are people who say we might be finally “awakened” if we as a voting bloc do our job. In fact, Latinos are the largest ethnic or racial demographic in the U.S. and by default we have the capacity to choose the next president through our vote and our ability to mobilize the vote of our family, friends and community members in California and other states.

The urgency to build our political power, ensure our unique needs are heard, and activate the nation’s Latino electorate is ever pressing. It’s important to vote because the fact remains that those in power in this country have influence over all of our livelihoods. Regardless of your position, apathy does not negate the fact that the next U.S. President will have deciding power and great social and cultural influence of our country…and its relation to others.

As we get closer to November 8, groups like the Latino Community Foundation, Voto Latino, The Dolores Huerta Foundation, and others will work to register and get Latinos to participate civically in local politics and the presidential election. People will always want to know where you come from – show them by voting! 

To join Lacy in voting this election, register to vote online by going to www.latinos-vote.com or text LATINOS to 384-387 to register! It only takes a few minutes.


About Lacy Maria Serros

Lacy is a senior advisor and strategist with 15 years of experience in social justice movement building nationally. Originally from the Central Valley, California,  Lacy began her career organizing with the United Farm Workers of California. She currently lives in New York, where she received her Masters in Public Administration, and is working on racial justice and human rights efforts.
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We have to engage — we have to fight — we have to vote!

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By: Carmela Castellano, President and CEO of the California Primary Care Association

I grew up with a strong sense of social justice and civic duty. As a young Latina, I knew that I would stand up for my rights my entire life. I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for someone else to fight for me.

My mom set a great example. As Executive Secretary at San Jose City College, she knew the decisions of the board of trustees had a great impact on the college’s employees, its students, and the community. She couldn’t afford to make big campaign contributions like some, but she walked precincts, made phone calls and put her energy behind the candidates she supported. Seeing my mom involved in the political process from an early age is one of the reasons I am such a passionate advocate today. Like my mom, I fight for the causes I support.

One of them is my concern for the people who want to vote but can’t. All across the country there are processes that are causing the exclusion of voters —particularly Black and Latino voters—, such as the absurdly strict voter identification laws adopted in some states. These laws are a stain on our democratic process and an unfortunate violation of people’s civil rights.

Thankfully, California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla has taken significant steps to make the voting process easier and more welcoming to all Californians:

  • He has championed a new online voter registration process. You can visit registertovote.ca.gov to register, and complete the process in a couple of minutes. All you need are the last four digits of your social security number and your driver’s license number. You can also go to LCF’s site: www.latinos-vote.com
  • He has supported a new vote-by-mail law. Your mail-in-vote will now be counted if it’s post-marked on or before Election Day. In past elections mail-in ballots had a different deadline, resulting in tens of thousands of ballots being thrown out. Now, everyone has the same deadline to vote — Election Day.
  • He has sponsored the new Motor Voter law. This progressive law —only the second of its kind in the country— will register to vote every eligible California citizen who goes to a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to get a driver’s license or renew one. In its first year of operation, experts’ forecast that the new Motor Voter law will add two million new voters to the election rolls. Many will come from low-income families who are young and Latino.

Secretary Padilla has shown tremendous leadership by advancing the voting rights of millions of Californians, especially those who are most likely to be marginalized by the process.

Another cause I’m passionate about is the effort that my own constituency —community health centers — is making in getting their communities registered to vote. Health centers already follow federal requirements to offer voter registration when enrolling patients into the Medi-Cal and Covered California Programs. Additionally — in partnership with Community Health Vote and NonProfit Vote—, CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates launched a campaign on September 27, National Voter Registration Day, which runs through the last day to register before the general election, October 24. Through this campaign we hope to register thousands of voters who will advance the issues important to our communities.

Health centers are uniquely positioned to support efforts to increase voter registration and voter turnout, because they are familiar and trusted sources of care in their communities, which also provide additional supportive services, education, and outreach to their patients —often in a language other than English.

These are all exciting innovations that empower disenfranchised communities like those I have dedicated my life to serving. Unlike other states, California is breaking down barriers to voting so that everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard. Like my mom, we have to stand up and do our part to advance the causes of justice that are so important to our community.

We have to engage — we have to fight — we have to vote!

It is our civic duty.

To follow Carmela Castellano’s work – Carmelacastellano.com 


If you aren’t registered, please do it before the October 24th deadline. It takes 2 minutes and you can do it here: www.latinos-vote.com

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Latino Canvassers Unite to Register Voters at Marc Anthony Concert

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By: Jessica Salinas, LCF Communications Fellow, Los Angeles

When Clara came to Pomona, California with her family from Michoacan, Mexico as a child, she experienced injustice first hand. Throughout her school years, she dealt with racism from classmates, and although she learned everything she knew in the United States and had every intention of going to college, her senior year of high school reality set as she found out that it would be virtually impossible as she was undocumented. The door was shut in her face.

That’s why last night Clara volunteered her Friday night with the Latino Community Foundation and Mi Familia Vota to register Latino voters. “I want people to take advantage of the opportunity I didn’t have. A lot of people are scared, and they don’t believe they can make a difference,” she said.

Clara is dedicated to changing that mindset by coming out and helping inform the Latino community on the power of voting – locally and nationally.

She’s not alone.

Stephanie, an aspiring lawyer and political science major at Santa Monica College, also dedicated her Friday evening to register Latino voters outside of the Microsoft Theater during the Marc Anthony Concert in Los Angeles.

“I’m out here because I really care about the Latino vote. There are so many Latinos in our country, but not enough go out to vote,” she said. In California only 17% of all eligible Latinos are expended to vote. “There are also many undocumented Latinos that we should be supporting by going out to vote.”

Stephanie has a special connection to this cause. She has lived with a constant fear of her parents being deported. She remembers being cautious of speaking Spanish in certain areas of LA for fear of people questioning that they belonged. As she grew up, she began to attend rallies pushing for immigrants rights. She became empowered to make a difference for her family and others. That’s why this year, volunteering for civic engagement campaigns was a no-brainer.

“Registering voters is very important in our community. You never know how many registrations you’re going to get. But I feel like I have a bigger reason to be here. Even helping to spread the message of why voting matters is very important,” Stephanie exclaimed.

To join Stephanie and Clara in registering to vote, go to www.latinos-vote.com or text LATINOS to 384-387 to register! It only takes a few minutes.

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Mi Voto es Mi Voz

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Latina Social Entrepreneur Aurora Anaya-Cerda

My grandmother had a dicho for every situation, and if she were alive today, she would say, ‘Tenemos que votar — mas vale prevenir, que lamentar’.

This November 8th, I’m voting because I recognize the power that comes with having a say in the issues that affect my community. My voto es mi voz, and I refuse to stay silent against any candidate that is unfit to lead, instills fear, and plans to implement policies that will cause severe damage to our economy and society.

Since I became involved in campus organizations as an undergraduate student and to this day, my main focus has been to inform first generation high school students that college is an attainable goal. When you are the first in your family to attend college, you bring your family with you—there is so much beauty in that.

When we vote, we bring our community with us. Those of us that have the opportunity to vote must do so for the people in our lives who cannot yet cast a ballot for or against propositions and candidates at the city, state, and national level that can benefit or negatively influence their communities.  

It’s bigger than me. When I think about LA, I think about the people who live here, the people who make this city run. The cooks, the housekeepers, the teachers and students, the abuelitas, the undocumented laborers, the engineers, the entrepreneurs, and the artists. This is my LA.

With so many important issues on the line—education, the environment, small business development, immigration reform, health, gun control, housing, foreign policy—tenemos que votar.

About Aurora Anaya-Cerda

A native Angeleno, Aurora Anaya-Cerda is an entrepreneur, cultural worker, and educator. She founded La Casa Azul Bookstore and is currently an M.S. in Social Entrepreneurship Candidate at the USC Marshall School of Business.

To join Aurora in voting this election, register to vote online by going to www.latinos-vote.com or text LATINOS to 384-387 to register! It only takes a few minutes.