Meet Mari Luisa - a volunteer with our team from the beginning living in Charlotte, NC. She’s originally from Republica Dominicana, but has lived all over the U.S. and works as a tutor. She currently leads political education for the NC Mijente Las Vidas Negras Importan online series, along with reaching out to our gente with phone and text banking.
How did you first get involved with the NC Mijente team?
I joined the very first online Las Vidas Negras Importan meeting. I was blown away by the amount of people that came, the organizers, how much care was given to the issues of anti-blackness in our community -- and that drew me in right away. I was asked to join in phone banking and I was really nervous about it. I thought, “I don't want to talk to strangers. It might be weird”. But instead people were so excited to have someone care and check in on them. Our gente are suffering right now and need support, so being able to offer that is really exciting.
Now I’m a leader for the Las Vidas Negras Importan meetings and that has been amazing. The work that I get to do is teaching our gente about how and why we have all of these prejudices that sometimes go against ourselves. Learning our history and why these structures are in place can help us do the work of undoing them within ourselves, and I am super passionate about the freedom that can bring.
When did you first become aware of social/political issues in the US?
I first became aware of political issues in high school. There was a week my bus was constantly late and because of that we kept missing the free breakfast. One of those mornings, the bell rang while we were still in line and the admins told us to get to class. And I just got so angry….So I started a mini-riot. I told the entire line to stay and that we were going to eat food, because it wasn't fair that other kids who don't even need the free breakfast and who got dropped off by their parents or their nannies got to eat when we didn’t.
That was the first time I got the message that even the people in charge, who were supposed to be there to help us, didn’t care or didn’t think critically about kids needing food in their system in order to perform well and concentrate on classes. So from that point on I thought, “Cool, it’s up to me to fight as best as I can with everything that I have to help people”.
What’s it been like having “organize from home” experiences like phone banking and text banking?
Text banking and phone banking from home is the greatest thing ever invented. At home I can be in my pajamas on my couch, and still be helping people. With phone banking we have group chat so that I never feel alone when I'm doing these calls, and if I have any questions - I can work through it with the team on the group chat. It's a team experience, and we’re there for each other. Text banking has been more independent but I think that there's a level of intimacy that people are comfortable with over text compared to phones, I’ve experienced the most opening up happening when texting to check in on our gente.
With everything that's been going on this year, it's been hard to figure out what I can do, and right now many can’t go to typical gatherings. So it's been liberating to have this opportunity to do something from my own home.
Why do you think it’s important for Latinxs to get involved with this work?
I think it's important for Latinxs to get involved with voter registration, for two reasons: First, there’s no savior coming - No one is going to magically fix the problems that exist. Second - no one's going to take care of our community as well as we can. I know from my mother, if someone else approached her that wasn't able to speak Spanish or connect with her from a cultural standpoint, it would be hard for her to understand. But she can connect more with someone who looks and speaks like her and she'll listen. That's why it's important that we do this work - us. We need to be in community with our gente, get our people registered. No one else is going to do the work for us.
What encouragement do you have for Latinxs who want to get involved but have never done this work?
When I first joined the NC team, I had this fear that I wasn't good enough - that I didn't have the right education to help and that I didn’t belong. But I realized that if you're willing, you can do this work. If you are nervous at all about getting involved or if you're having any doubt, we will train you. We're here to support you. Anything that you need to learn, we are here to teach you. We are here to cheer you on, and it's a great little family.
So if you're feeling nervous, if you're worried about qualifications, don't be. Come as you are - we're here to work together to make things better.
What has made you consider getting involved in traditional/in person events for voter registration?
I decided to go do an in-person event because I grilled the lead organizer on safety, and all of the precautions put in place are right in line with what the CDC is recommending for in-person work. We make sure to keep distance. We have masks and face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer - all of the things to ensure that we are as safe as possible while we’re handing out masks and registering people to vote. Being aware of all of the struggles in our community -- how our people don't have work or, if they are working, it's not necessarily in the safest conditions -- made me decide that we need to be out there distributing masks, doing the voter registrations. We need to be present. So once I knew that there were all of these safety precautions and that it was a high priority for Mijente, I felt comfortable enough to go out there and do that work.