Voz is a worker-led organization that empowers diverse day laborers and immigrants to improve their working conditions and protect civil rights through leadership development, organizing, education and economic opportunity. We provide day laborers with leadership development opportunities as well as classes aimed at providing them with the skills they need to secure long-term employment. Voz uses Popular Education methodology in our leadership development and grassroots organizing, and we have a strong history of community engagement as a worker-led organization. Romeo Sosa has been Executive Director since 2004.
Where I came from:
The Mayan story is a story that goes back thousands of years. It is a story of struggle to defend our language, our tradition, our culture, and our religion from the Spanish who invaded us. As a Mayan growing up during 36 years of Guatemalan civil war, it was important to understand political justice-- why I was seeing bodies and houses burning. At eight, I learned rich people were taking land and the poor were fighting back to defend the land-- sacred, Mother, and life giver in my culture.
What is a day laborer?
When I came to the U.S., I discovered the irony of the American Dream: I did not find riches, but instead I worked in the fields and the first thing handed to me was a shovel. I was changed by the exploitation of workers and racism we experienced. In the past ten years, we challenged some of the community assumptions about day laborers and immigrants: that they are drunks, homeless, drug dealers, or terrorists. They are people seeking work, food, safety, and peace. I worked in the fields, cut Christmas trees, picked tomatoes and blackberries, worked as a janitor, and took care of people with disabilities. Too many jobs to count just to survive. I discovered VOZ when I worked in the St. Francis dining hall feeding day laborers.
How Voz formed:
VOZ began in 2000 and is becoming one of Portland’s strongest organizations pushing for immigrant rights. One of the main reasons VOZ exists is that we want day laborers to organize themselves, to stand up and speak up about the issues they face, and to ensure they are seen as equal. We are empowering people to change their own reality by creating solutions. We also founded the National Day Laborers Organizing Network so day laborers from across the country can share their experiences.
And we are seeing victories through our coalition work. We united with Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition and, with the help of the City of Portland, we established the first worker center in the city. There we offer skills, health and safety training and art, computer, and English classes while people wait for work. Because we need to have voices of day laborers in decision making processes, VOZ developed leadership development curriculum. Day laborers are becoming aware of their rights (and we put these on a “green card”), particularly regarding wage theft and immigration enforcement.