Building connections for Latin American labor advancement

The AFT further cemented its bonds with the Latino community, and in particular with the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, during LCLAA’s 24th National Membership Convention Aug. 2-6: AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus was elected LCLAA president, AFT President Randi Weingarten outlined the AFT’s Real Solutions for Kids and Communities campaign in a keynote speech, several AFT leaders were elected to the LCLAA executive board and dozens of AFT members attended.

Photo of AFT leaders and members at the LCLAA Convention
A large delegation of AFT leaders and members attended the recent LCLAA Convention.

DeJesus, who was elected LCLAA president Aug. 5, is the first Puertorriqueña and the first educator to take this position, marking the organization’s “commitment to diversity, inclusivity and gender equity within its ranks,” reads a LCLAA press release. “Her exceptional leadership and dedication to empowering Latino/a workers have already made a profound impact on the community, and her election marks a turning point in the pursuit of social justice for all Latinos/as.”

“As a Puertorriqueña in New York City’s Lower East Side, I was surrounded by hardworking Latino/as my entire life,” said DeJesus. “Today, it is an absolute honor to be elected LCLAA’s national president—an opportunity to continue fighting for the community that raised me. I look forward to working alongside LCLAA’s executive vice president and secretary-treasurer, the board and affiliates to mobilize and embolden working Latino/as and their families.”

“A trade unionist and educator through and through,” said Weingarten, “Evelyn leads with unwavering devotion, grace and courage, and I am confident in her ability to bring Latinos together to fight for their rights at work and uplift the community. Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, and Evelyn has dedicated her life to empowering Latino families in the labor movement and in the political process. She is driven to win on the issues that have always been near to her heart—immigration policy, the right to a union and human rights—and I could not be prouder of my sister.”

Latinos and labor working together

The LCLAA convention, held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, focused on building power and growing the union movement with Latino workers and families in the forefront. In addition to Weingarten, keynote speakers included AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, A. Philip Randolph Institute President Clayola Brown and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists President Terry Melvin. The event offered workshops on topics such as empowering women in the trades, creating jobs and infrastructure funding, building power with immigrant workers and fostering success for LGBTQIA+ workers.

LCLAA members also re-elected the following AFT leaders to their national executive board: Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico President Victor Bonilla, California Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President Juan Ramirez, AFT New Mexico Executive Vice President Kathy Chavez and AFT staff member Cesar Moreno Perez. Their election is a continuation of the two organizations’ robust and ongoing relationship: The AFT was a founding member of LCLAA, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO.

Weingarten, addressing a packed house at the opening session of the conference, spoke with passion about workers’ rights and education, emphasizing the power of working together toward common goals, to understand one another’s issues and “to raise our family in a democracy that works for all.” A dozen AFT members—delegates to the LCLAA convention representing the Chicago Teachers Union, United Federation of Teachers (New York), CFT, United Teachers Los Angeles, Socorro AFT (Texas), Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers (California) and AMPR—took to the convention floor to speak on a handful of resolutions that reaffirmed equal rights for women, immigrant children and families and addressed other issues such as education, voting and economic development.

Photo of AFT members volunteering at the Égida del Maestro retirement home
As part of the convention, AFT members volunteered at Égida del Maestro retirement home to renovate and restore the property for dozens of retired educators living there.

Long-standing partnerships

The AFT’s involvement with the Latino community is already well-established. For many years, the union and several of our affiliates have worked with legal aid networks and community partners to host citizenship clinics, breaking down barriers for naturalization with free legal advice. AFT members and others from the Latino community come out of these sessions—the AFT’s Together We Rise Citizenship Clinics—with completed U.S. citizenship applications, and the clinics, offered in Texas, Florida, California and Oregon, have been game-changers for hundreds of people on the path to becoming U.S. citizens.

AFT leaders have visited detainment camps at the border, protesting inhumane conditions there, and worked with lawmakers to influence U.S. policy on immigration reform. We have provided multiple resources for educators who are themselves immigrants, or who have immigrant families in their schools, with “know your rights” material outlining the rights of all children, regardless of immigration status, to attend school; advice regarding deportation threats; step-by-step guides to surviving Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids; information on how to protect undocumented families; and more.

The AFT has supported “Dreamers,” those young immigrants who came to this country as children and have temporary legal status but no guarantee it will continue. We have advocated for a clearer path to citizenship for people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. We have provided classroom resources so that all children can learn more about immigration stories—on our free, online resource Share My Lesson, as well as on the bilingual educational site Colorín Colorado, for families of bilingual learners. And our book distribution program, Reading Opens the World—which has distributed 1.5 million books and counting—includes an array of bilingual selections and books where children can read about Latino characters and stories.

The AFT has long-standing relationships with dozens of immigration advocacy organizations—including the National Immigration Law Center, the National Immigration Forum, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, United We Dream and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium. We’ve had a significant presence at events with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, the National Association for Bilingual Education, United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, the League of United Latin American Citizens and many more. Together, we work to strengthen education for multilingual children, create policy that helps stabilize families, and lift up and celebrate a community that is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our labor and education family every day.

[Virginia Myers]