This past summer, a tired, lifeless lot in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn neighborhood blossomed into a beautiful community garden, thanks in large part to Silvia Pérez Sánchez.
Pérez Sánchez is founder and leader of the Latina women’s group, Mujeres en Acción y Poder (Women in Action and Power), based in the Corcoran and Powderhorn neighborhoods. She had a vision that a garden could transform not only an eyesore but also a community’s sense of itself. Drawn by her enthusiasm and organizing skills, many residents became involved in creating and tending the garden, which they named El Paraíso (The Paradise).
The garden was just one more initiative Pérez Sánchez has designed through Mujeres en Acción y Poder to connect with Latina women in the neighborhoods and draw them from their homes into the community.
She knows from her own experience how easy it is for Spanish-speaking women to become isolated when they move to the Twin Cities with their families. Factors such as the language barrier, lack of transportation and limited incomes, combined with cultural norms that say a woman’s place is in the home, can become huge obstacles for immigrant women.
Pérez Sánchez faced these same obstacles when she moved here eight years ago from Morelos, Mexico, with her husband and son (she now has another son and a daughter). For four years, she basically stayed at home. In Morelos she had been active and independent, working as an event organizer, and the contrast here was difficult. She became “very depressed.”
One day, however, she took stock of herself and said, “No más. Adlelante!” (No more. Go forward!) She began to take small steps, literally, walking in her neighborhood, then learning how to take the bus. She joined a group of Latina women meeting at Waite House, a community center in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, where she made connections, nurtured her self esteem, and expanded her knowledge of the community and its resources.
It soon became clear that Pérez Sánchez is a woman with leadership skills, abundant energy, and dreams, and Community Organizer Tina Tavera encouraged her to begin a group in her neighborhood. Mujeres en Acción y Poder was born.
The movement has grown to three groups, which have involved more than 200 Latina women coming together weekly to learn and to address issues that can help them grow and improve the lives of their families.
As leader, Pérez Sánchez sees her role as facilitator, encourager, provider of resources, and role model. “We work in a natural way,” she said. “The women decide what they need, what they want to know. Each woman is listened to and they make the decisions. My job is to find ways to achieve this.”
Through classes, presentations, even field trips, the women study skills such as English and computers; they learn about domestic violence, reproductive health, nutrition; they engage in neighborhood cleanup and crime prevention campaigns.
To see changes in the women is Pérez Sánchez’s reward. “They have more friends, they’re growing, they’re more happy. That’s what makes me feel proud. They have escaped from oppression and are learning to live in a different culture, to adapt, to feel at home.”
Be A Changemaker:
Get info about donating to or volunteering with Mujeres en Acción y Poder, from the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, 612-724-7457 or www.corcoranneighborhood.org