Local organization honors international women by recognizing ongoing struggles

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Local organizers are asking for the ongoing struggles of immigrant women in the Borderland to be recognized on International Women’s Day.

Barrio Chamizal residents are urging Vice President Kamala Harris and  U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to address what they say are concerns over lack of resources and oversight on school reopening plans in their neighborhood.

“We felt that we needed to send a letter to Vice President Harris in the hopes that the resources being allocated for COVID-19 relief are used specifically for the most vulnerable communities,” Hilda Villages, Founder of Familias Unidas del Chamizal told KTSM 9 News.

Familias Unidas del Chamizal says schools in Barrio Chamizal do not have proper resources to reopen under CDC guidelines.

According to the letter:

“Our school district has done very little to help families with virtual education and provide safe schools. Federal assistance that should help our schools has been strangled by the State of Texas Education agency. We need special projects directed to the most vulnerable communities in a concerted effort to get our children back in school. Our schools have not been updated, have poor ventilation, lack the materials and staff necessary to create a safe environment for our children to return. Yet, we fear that if our children do not go back soon, there will be irreparable harm done to their growth and education. Our community has struggled to have access to COVID-19 vaccinations,
as well as our neighborhood teachers, and parents are scared that if they send their struggling children to school, that they would expose vulnerable family members. Unfortunately, immigrant families have few choices.”

The organization developed an education recovery plan to address what it says is education loss and specific needs for low-income immigrant families.

“We felt that it was necessary to highlight on March 8 that something needs to be done and it starts with the federal government,” said Villegas.

Advocates from Familias Unidas del Chamizal and La Mujer Obrera — who are primarily women — said they’ve struggled to ensure children from their neighborhood have access to education and that the hurdles of the pandemic are compounding an already challenging situation.

“On International Women’s Day, especially with a mujer in the White House,” La Mujer Obrera President Cemelli de Aztlan explained, “that’s what we’re advocating for with the superintendent here locally. We’re not just talking about a checkmark on a diversity questionnaire.”

Both Villegas and de Aztlan say that they’re hopeful about their appeal to Vice President Harris, whose presidential run highlighted systemic racism and injustices in the education system by showcasing her own experience with busing.

“There was a huge argument about education — public education and systemic racism — and she talked about being bused out of her community to receive an education,” said de Aztlan. “When are we going to talk about investing resources in the communities that need them?”

President Joe Biden’s recently passed American Rescue Plan is set to allocate $208,996,000 to the El Paso Independent School District, which residents of Barrio Chamizal hope will be equitably distributed.

“Like Title I funding that should be used full force in these communities, yet what you keep seeing is discrimination in how funding is distributed,” de Aztlan said.

Villegas said she feels the federal government is the best entity to address these inequities because Vice President Harris is also a minority woman who understands not only the challenges of obtaining an education, but also the struggles many adult women face.

“Working women continue to fall short,” Villegas said. “And we continue to not be represented, at least Mexican American immigrant women.”

Villegas said it’s largely a class issue that many lawmakers in Washington do not realize and that it’s up to organizations like Familias Unidas and La Mujer Obrera to educate.

One issue is that many working women in neighborhoods like Barrio Chamizal are unable to afford child care.

“It’s $120 per week for one child and if you evaluate the minimum wage, of a working woman, if they’re lucky to get 40 hours a week and you have three children, your whole paycheck goes to daycare,” said Villegas.

Women who work full-time in El Paso have median earnings of $27,489 annually, which is one of the lowest earnings for women in metropolitan areas and almost $8,000 less than Texas’ median income for women.

The Texas Women’s Foundation reports the typical cost for full-time child care for one kid is about $3,776 per year and that most single mothers in El Paso earn around $20,000 per year.

Despite the ongoing challenges, women in Barrio Chamizal continue to honor immigrant women workers and hope to highlight the discrimination that occurs within the vulnerable population.

“The struggle is not only as women organizing are going through,” de Aztlan explains, “and in writing to Vice President Kamala Harris, we wanted to send the message that we are not invisible.”

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