The worker stands on a shaded stage, telling her story. Students and activists shout and cheer in all the right places. It’s the last Reno stop on the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.
Carmencito Abad tells of pregnant women living in squalid barracks and working 14-hour days to keep up with factory quotas. She talks about trying to organize a union for her co-workers. The response to her effort: A corporation that had a contract with the factory threatened to move its business to Mexico. In the end, Abad says, she lost her job when the factory decided not to renew her employee contract.
“They used many means to try to silence me,” she says. “But I fought back. No worker should be treated like a slave!”
The crowd cheered as Abad’s words were translated into Spanish.
Groups of immigrant workers are traveling across the nation from states including California, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Minnesota. Each set of Freedom Riders is making stops in several cities all the way to Washington, D.C., where they’ll arrive Oct. 2 for rallies, protests and a meeting with the U.S. Congress. The goal is to call attention to the plight of workers like Abad.
IWFR goals, say group leaders, include legalization for all immigrant workers and the rights of immigrant workers to reunite with their families, as well as workplace and civil rights. You can find out more at the group’s Web site, www.iwfr.org.
In Reno, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition includes about 20 local organizations, from the Nevada Young Activist Project to Operating Engineers Local 3 to the First United Methodist Church. On Sept. 23, Freedom Riders from California joined Nevadans in a soccer tournament. The following day, a protest was held at the Immigration and Naturalization Service Headquarters and a “Keeping the American Dream Alive” rally was held at UNR.
One 24-year-old Oakland, Calif., activist says she decided to go on the Freedom Ride because her grandfather was an immigrant from Lithuania. Abigail Levine, a member of Jews for Equal Rights for Immigrant Communities, says she grew up hearing stories about anti-Semitism and other kinds of discrimination faced by immigrants.
Things haven’t changed too much over the years. Levine has worked in the hotel industry, where she’s seen employees living in fear of management.
“As Jews, there’s a moral imperative to remember that we were strangers, or slaves, in Egypt, which we remember every year,” she says. “We’re also following in the footsteps of the social-justice movement.”
The story of one freedom rider named Maria is printed on a green flier. Maria, a mother of three, came to the United States 14 years ago when her youngest child was 2 years old. She works two jobs, cleaning banks in Marin County and working at a San Rafael hotel, in order to send money home to her parents and children. She says, “I cry when I think about my family and how I am not able to see my children grow.”