2008 Changemaker: Mujeres en Liderazgo

Confidence through organizing

Maria Cisneros and Alicia Ranney. Photo by Emma Freeman.

Maria Cisneros and Alicia Ranney. Photo by Emma Freeman.

Language can be a huge barrier for immigrant and migrant women. If your first language is Spanish, you may be able to get some essential services with the help of a translator. But the women of Pillsbury United Community’s Waite House wanted to offer more to these women, and so, in March of this year, Mujeres en Liderazgo was born.

The program, which means Women in Leadership, included 10 Twin Cities Latinas who ranged in age from 19 to 45. They met twice a month for six months, and along with leadership development, focused on building a base of knowledge about social movements, family dynamics, immigration, financial information, labor rights, human trafficking and U.S. school systems. The women dedicated 13 Saturdays to learn about these topics, usually with the help of a guest speaker from other organizations in the community. The meetings were conducted in Spanish.

Throughout the six months of the program, program facilitator Maria Cisneros noticed improvement in the women’s communication skills and their confidence in them. “When they first started, they were really shy, and really nervous about giving their opinion to the group,” said Cisneros through the program’s technical coordinator Alicia Ranney, who acted as translator. “That has changed.”

In addition to providing a leadership skills development program, Mujeres en Liderazgo has a community action component. For this year’s first class, the women decided on an issue relevant to their communities and then figured out how to go about achieving that goal. The group chose the task of getting driver’s licenses for migrant workers.

The program provides a base of knowledge and support for the women, but ultimately all of the work and action comes from the group. With Ranney translating for her, Cisneros said, “I never thought that they would change so quickly in such a short amount of time. In reality, it really surprised me.” The women were enthusiastic about community organizing and gathered between 3,000 and 4,000 signatures in support of driver’s licenses for immigrant workers. They have been working on garnering a base of support, including the gathering of signatures. Its signers include U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and Minnesota State Representatives Neva Walker and Karen Clark. Their goal is at least 5,000 signatures. Their next step is going to the state’s transportation committees to see if they can find someone willing to sponsor a bill. They also plan to hold a forum for the public and the media, to educate people on what it’s like to not be able to have a driver’s license.

This group of Mujeres en Liderazgo officially graduated in September, but are still getting together to work on their community action initiative. Their campaign is already gaining notice from more than locals-groups of woman in Winona, Minn., and in the state of Mississippi have approached the group to borrow ideas on how to better organize themselves. Waite House plans to continue the program with minor changes, starting new groups in January and again in July.

Get Involved
To sign the petition for driver’s licenses for migrant workers, or to lend support to the Waite House and Mujeres en Liderazgo, contact the Waite House, 2529 13th Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-721-1681.