Breaking new ground: how change happens

Excitement and a sense of possibility. That is what the participants at UnidosUS’s 2022 Changemakers Summit felt in the halls, rooms, and auditoriums of Gallaudet University in Washington, DC; and that feeling was specially strong at the Breaking New Ground session with our Affiliates Hispanic Unity of Florida and Chicanos Por La Causa.

By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Affiliate Content Specialist, UnidosUS

During the legislative visits on the last day of the Summit, a Florida coalition of UnidosUS Affiliates joined forces to talk to their representatives. A staff member of Senator Rubio’s office listened to their concerns about health care, education, immigration, COVID-19 recovery, and more.

Our Affiliates were prepared for this discussion: they had been informed about the issues by UnidosUS’s policy analysts, participated in White House briefings and federal roundtables, and connected with colleagues across the country. There were many seasoned advocates in the room, one of them Otto Valenzuela, Associate Director of Public Policy & Advocacy at Hispanic Unity of Florida, who earlier at Summit spoke at the Breaking New Ground session, where he inspired young and veteran advocates to continue doing this work, fighting the good fight.

Otto Valenzuela, Associate Director of Public Policy & Advocacy at UnidosUS Affiliate Hispanic Unity of Florida.

Moderated by Yvette A. Núñez, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at UnidosUS, and joined by panelists Bayly Hassell, Legislative Analyst at UnidosUS, and Joe García, Vice President of Public Policy at Chicanos Por La Causa, they not only enthused attendees, but presented ideas on how to advocate for their communities to push for our shared priorities. The lesson participants walked out with: together somos más.

TOGETHER SOMOS MÁS

“In unity there is strength and in strength there is power” is one of UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía’s mottos when talking about the power of the Affiliate Netowk and the partnership with UnidosUS. In Breaking New Ground, Joe García from CPLC characterized that idea with the image of a peacock. When a peacock spreads their feathers they show themselves larger than they are: “Unidos[US] helps you become larger than who you are,” Joe said. “[They] give you the tools to be that larger peacock, the knowledge” to advocate for the people we serve.

Otto Valenzuela from HUF put it plainly: UnidosUS’s policy and advocacy work gives them more capacity. “Once we have [the policy materials they put out], we can go ahead and do the work we need to do.” Since 2018, HUF has created a policy agenda that they use for their meetings with elected officials at the local, county, state, and federal levels, where they include the changes they want to see in legislation.

“Our policy agenda has a lot of UnidosUS material, a lot of the resources they put out. We are a small organization with one full-time staffer to do policy work, and we know that these resources exist and that we can count on UnidosUS’s materials and staff to do this work,” Valenzuela explained.

And this is a two-way partnership, as Yvette Núñez and Bayly Hassell from UnidosUS stated: “We rely heavily on our Affiliates to bring the stories of the community,” Hassell said and Núñez reinforced: “You’re all way more powerful than any one of us at UnidosUS as lobbyists. You’re not just walking in as an [organization representative]; you come in representing the thousands of community members you serve. That gives you a lot of power that we don’t have.”

Joe García, Vice President of Public Policy at Chicanos Por La Causa, and Bayly Hassell, Legislative Analyst at UnidosUS.

“YOU’RE GIVING VOICE TO THE VOICELESS”

As organizations that originated to serve Latinos, society sees our Affiliates as the voice for the non-English speakers, for the immigrant communities, and even though that work might not be part of their programs, the panelists recommended becoming well-versed in the issues affecting our communities: “You will become the de facto voice for immigration, for non-English speakers, etc. So it is good that you have all this background,” said Valenzuela, to which García added: “Immigration might not be what you work on, but it doesn’t mean your voice shouldn’t be heard on immigration.”

Just like it doesn’t mean that the priorities we and our Affiliates work on affect only Hispanics: “Once you start diving into the issues and seeing what they are, you’ll see that they not only impact Latinos: they impact everyone,” Valenzuela continued. “We all rise or we all fall together, and that is a pretty powerful message also when you are connecting with elected officials: we are not only working for Latinos, we are working for everyone.”

García explained how about one-third of their clients are not Latinos, “they are marginalized communities, poor people. Who we serve is more than who we serve directly; it is also who we serve indirectly by being their voice,” he continues, or as Valenzuela put it: “You are giving voice to the voiceless.”

“FEEL PROUD OF WHAT YOU DO”

The panelists frequently spoke directly to you young people in the room, encouraging them to not feel intimidated by this work, to start with the first steps, because they’ll find out they can get up to speed quickly. The important reminder was: “Your voice is so important, the organizations that you represent are so important” (García); “You belong in these rooms. Your voice matters” (Hassell); “Don’t let this work intimidate you” (Valenzuela).

Joe García also ensured to give a boost of confidence to our changemakers during this session:

“You all are super heroes. Every day you put on that invisible cape to do good, to fight against injustice, and you do it for the people. To have that colleague is special. I have the word ‘nonprofit’ in my title, and I am so happy about that. We could do anything in this world, but we decided to do this work, to have an impact. You are affecting change, you need to do that so you can help others. Feel proud of what you do. Shoutout to all of you.”

Changemakers from our Affiliate Domico-American Society of Queens.

Otto Valenzuela reminded them that this work takes time, just as changemaker Zair Menjivar reminded us recently:

“It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Just keep at it. We are all working for the community. You have to do it for yourself, for your family, for your people. The solution is not going to be found tomorrow. Find long-term solutions through policy work.”

If you want to participate in invigorating events like Changemakers Summit, to be surrounded by like-minded individuals ready to work for the Latinx community, join us on July 9–11 in San Antonio for our first in-person Annual Conference since 2019. More information and registration here.

You might also be interested in:

This past month at the 2022 UnidosUS Changemakers Summit in Washington, DC, I found myself filled with profound orgullo, but also very reflective. This was my first in-person event in […]