As resistance to Trump administration policies moves forward, Latino women in Connecticut want to make sure their voice and concerns are being heard.
Recently, more than two dozen Latinas gathered in a classroom at the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford on a Saturday morning to discuss what they could do to oppose President Trump’s agenda, particularly in immigration and health care.
Several of the women, who came mostly from the Hartford area and represented several Hispanic ethnicities, spoke only in Spanish and a few admitted to limited fluency in that language, but they shared a common mission: to resist policies that threatened them personally as women and as members of their ethnic communities.
“I want to thank Donald Trump, and how he has come into our lives, because we are now organizing,” said Aline Zuniga, a native of Colombia, who with two dozen other Latinas had responded to the invitation to meet on May 6 that two former state representatives, Evelyn Mantilla and Ilia Castro, had issued via social media and emails.
Castro and Mantilla said they set up the meeting, invoking the theme “Latinas en la Resistencia,” to build on the momentum and the energy generated by the Women’s Marches that took place in Washington, D.C., Hartford and hundreds of cities worldwide the weekend after the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Trump.
Within two hours of arriving at the Park Street center, the Latinas had informally staked out the goals and strategies of a new grassroots organization to resist and take action against President Trump and, in particular, his attempts to impose harsh deportation strictures and to dismantle the national health care act enacted by the Obama Administration. The women also said they wanted to speak out on local and state issues affecting women and Latinos in general.
Among the issues the Latinas discussed was the potential for a regression in access and affordability of health care under the new insurance and coverage rules approved the previous day by the U.S. House of Representatives. One Latina said that the schemes emphasis on making those who use more services pay more would mean higher insurance premiums for women. “Being a woman has become a pre-existing condition,” she said.
Several attendees stressed the need to “break the barrier of fear” that Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant stance had created in the Latino community. Elby Gonzalez-Schwapp said she worked with several immigrant women “who are afraid and going to dark places.” She added, “I need to use my voice for women and children who can’t speak.”
Another woman who described herself as “a business owner, author and animal rights activist,” spoke of her son coming home from school upset because some of his friends had told him they may be forced to leave the country where they were born to go to a place they never have been because their parents were undocumented immigrants.
In some instances, the women also cited the need to address changes taking place in the state and Hartford, such as the cancellation of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Another woman, who identified herself as a Puerto Rican of both a Hispanic and African descent, spoke about the racism she encounters at work. “Some of my co-workers will not even speak to me,” she said.
To transform their activism and interests into political clout, the Latinas recognized that they need make sure that their messages and concerns reach national, state and local political leaders. This effort will be channeled through social media and having a presences resistance events and gatherings such as the Town Hall meetings that members of Congress are hold regularly.
Mantilla said one effective way to contact U.S. senators and representatives is by texting the word ‘RESIST” to 504-09. This action will result in a fax being sent to lawmakers, which she said in her case already had resulted in responses from a U.S. senator and a member of the House of Representatives.
Another priority was to unite and communicate with other national and local resistance groups including other well-established Connecticut grassroots organizations such as the Students for A Dream and Unidad Latinas en Accion.
“We may be a women’s force,” said one Latina, “but we want to forge alliances.”
Mantilla said the group would welcome non-Latinos and others attending the meeting, where most of the women fell into the age 39 and up category, suggested a need to reach out the college and high school students.
Many of the women at the Hartford meeting had migrated from Puerto Rico, others were from Latin America and some were born in the United States. The group included social workers, business owners, mothers and daughters, a Hispanic television personality and at least one “soccer mom.”
Others said they were currently active on behalf of various social and educational causes, including one woman who said she was politically involved in both Connecticut and Puerto Rico.
In some cases, women said they had worked on civil rights and political campaigns more than a decade ago and felt a need to step up again because the gains Latinos had fought to achieve were now at risk. “We cannot afford to lose what others have done,” Zuniga said.
Now the new organization will be function remains under discussion and a name for the organization will be chosen at the next meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on May 20, again at the Center for Latino Progress located at 95 Park Street in Hartford.
Although Mantilla said she envisioned a less formal arrangement where “everyone is equal” and there were no titles, several attendees including Zuniga and Ana Alfaro. who hosts a Spanish-language television program, said having leaders and setting up various committees would enhance the group’s effectiveness and not distract from its cohesiveness.
Mantilla said that she and Castro will share facilitation duties at upcoming meetings. “It is not our goal to run everything but to simply keep the conversation going and to open the door for all activists to join the fight.”