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Archive for April, 2008

Imagine standing in front of an overflow crowd of several hundred people at the California Democratic Party’s State Convention in San Jose, CA recently. Thanks to Lynn Shaw Hilfenhaus, Chair of the Women’s Caucus and Elmy Bermejo, our Director of Latina Affairs, I had the wonderful opportunity to announce our Engage Her documentary to this esteemed crowd. As I looked throughout the audience I saw an amazing collection of women and men of all ethnicities, races and ages holding up signs to support their candidates. I had a few minutes to describe our project and to let them know that our documentary was due out in mid June for national distribution. I could tell when I explained that there were 26 million or more minority women who could’ve vote in the 2004 elections that they were surprised the number was so huge. Letting them know that only 60% of African American women voted, while Asian American Pacific Islanders dropped down to 40% and Latinas were only 38% was eye opening. I mentioned briefly some of the amazing women that we are interviewing and that the documentary would conclude with solutions and calls to action. We now have national organizations and partners such as Momsrising.org, DemocracyforAmerica.com, League Of Women Voters who are interested in helping screen and host house parties for our documentary when it is released.

Afterwards, I was approached by a number of different organizations and individuals who are interested in hearing more about our documentary and the movement we are creating including Emerge California, National Women’s Political Caucus of California among others. It was exciting and gratifying to see such a strong response and interest in our project. Maria Victoria Ponce, our Filmmaker, Annie Masullo, our Director of Operations and Elmy Bermejo were there filming and networking with people as we handed out postcards announcing our documentary and blog. Women were very interested in hearing more about our project and I would hear feedback like “It’s about time”. A number of people kept telling us that we needed to get the documentary onto PBS for national screening since it is such an educational project and resonates with so many people.

It was an exciting moment to announce our documentary publicly and to see that it resonated so deeply with a very diverse audience. Everybody’s pushing us to get the documentary out as quickly as possible and we’re moving at break neck speed. Stay tuned for more individual interviews and videoclips. Mable

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Walking into the beautifully colored turquoise building that houses BAHIA, Inc. you feel the warmth and hear the laughter of the little preschool children playing at the Preschool center that Beatriz Leyva-Cutler oversees. There are brightly colored pictures that the children have drawn and a feeling of nurturing and love abounds everywhere. You could hear the children talking excitedly in both Spanish and English and there were a lot of women paying constant attention the children. It almost felt as if it were an extended family location with the aunties taking care of all the little ones.

Beatriz has been the Executive Director of BAHIA, Inc. since 1988 and an employee of the organization for 27 years. She has been involved with childcare and education for young children and advocating for immigrant families for a long time. Her work has been honored and the fact that her organizations have existed and thrived this long is a true testament to the great work that she performs. Beatriz grew up in San Francisco with a stern authoritarian father. He raised his children with strong cultural values expecting Beatriz and her sisters to date and marry only Latino men. Beatriz remembers how she had to make up stories about who she was dating so her parents wouldn’t know. In fact, she never did marry a Latino man like her father wanted. Instead, Beatriz attended San Francisco State College and participated in Chicano/Latina leadership programs on campus. Her political conciousness was formed during the 1970’s when she got heavily involved with Latina issues.

Beatriz is very aware of the economic and political issues faced by many immigrant Latino families. Her centers provide services to these families and she hears about many of their issues on a daily basis. Through her hard work securing funding to provide much needed services to her community, she’s been able to establish and strengthen three programs: Centro VIDA, Bahia School Age Program and a new program in Fremont. She said that there is a lot of concern and unease amongst Latino families recently because of the change and enforcement of immigration laws. She noted that there have been more immigration raids to find and deport immigrants without documentation. Therefore a lot of people are afraid to register for services or lack the knowledge of whether they are qualified to vote. There is a great deal of apathy and concern that someone within their family or community could be asked to leave.

Beatriz said that if the government really wants to encourage more eligible voters to go out and vote at the polls, then they have to reach out to the community differently. She said that they need to educate the people using Spanish speaking TV, radio and printed media like Channel 14 and Univision. They should recruit more spanish speaking people from the community to go to local produce markets, shopping areas and places where the Latinos frequent and congregate. In addition, the candidates have to talk about issues of importance to the Latino community such as jobs, economy, immigration, healthcare and education. They need to explain their positions on these issues and how they translate directly to these people’s everyday lives. When the politicians talk about large national issues like the Iraq War or terrorism, they don’t connect with the everyday voter. These voters have to deal with their daily ongoing struggles such as employment, childcare, education and housing. When the politicians talk about national issues, it doesn’t necessarily resonate with a large part of the population that is struggling to make ends meet.

Beatriz and her organizations were just honored last night at the Latino Community Foundation for her outstanding work and contributions to the community. She is running for an elected position on the Berkeley School Board and is a member of emergeCalifornia a powerful organization that encourages women to get involved and run for local & regional politics. We’re fortunate to have committed and wonderful people like Beatriz working on behalf of so many needy families over the years. Thank you Beatriz for all the great work that you do. Mable

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