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Women in struggle and resisting

María Elena Martínez  |  Issue: March 2017
MIO organization

The brave and talented women of the MIO organization.
PHOTOS: María Elena Martínez


“Hunger knocks me down, but pride picks me up’

Hunger knocks me down, but my pride picks me up, affirms Juana Nicolas. Nicolas, who, after fleeing her native Oaxaca, arrived in Los Angeles to work as a nanny and domestic worker.

Most domestic workers who do not understand their rights and who live in isolation because of their undocumented status are vulnerable and easy targets for labor, physical and emotional abuse.

After her own experience, Juana began to organize domestic workers through various immigrant-rights organizations.

In 2008, she founded MIO, Mujeres Imigrantes Organizadas, a group of immigrant women who organize and advocate for workers’ rights. In the daily struggle for survival, these women organize and support each other through the trials and tribulations of poverty and trauma, be it from civil wars in their native countries or from domestic violence.


MIO organization


Under the direction of an art instructor, these women learned to paint. Many had never painted before, yet the instructor and the students identified themes like borders and border crossing, family and family separations for the women to ponder and paint about. This therapeutic endeavor of self-expression transformed these women into artists who told stories of struggle and triumph, and, most importantly, a vision for a better future.

When one of their husbands was deported, the women went into action using their art to create gatherings to exhibit their art, raise money and raise consciousness about the dangers for immigrants in Los Angeles.

As Trump makes good on this threats to deport migrants and deny funding to any state which does not cooperate, Los Angeles women see a bright future. A future that honors our cultural roots. For many immigrants, their legal status and limited English fuels an entrepreneurial spirit as in the case of Epifanía who, despite neither speaking English nor Spanish but Zapotec (an indigenous language from Oaxaca) launched L.A. Oaxaca Express where she sells food and goods from Oaxaca.

A single mother and domestic worker for many years, she and her son have made their dream come true. Similarly, the three-year struggle to de-criminalize street vendors in Los Angeles was finally successful in December.

From street vending and small shops to cooperative ownership, Vermont and Gage Carwash in Los Angeles made history by being the first to unionize. Now it has become the first workers’ cooperative car wash. The carwasheros (car washers) who worked at Vermont and Gage were left without pay when the owner abandoned the business owing rent and wages.

In February, the carwasheros will have had their grand opening with assistance from the L.A. Union Cooperative Initiative (LUCI). The current economic model where labor is subservient to capital is why we and so many other people cannot earn enough to support themselves and live with dignity. But if we flip that model and make capital subservient to labor, we could all share the wealth that is produced, explains Niki Okuk member of LUCI.

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