Sept. 15 marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month — or, as it is known in Spanish, Mes de la Herencia Hispana — a time when the United States pays tribute to the history, culture and contributions of past and present Hispanic Americans.
According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million Americans identify as Hispanic — and that number is growing. Immigration has long been a part of America’s national history, and the role that immigrants have played — and still play — in building this country is one of the reasons “the American dream” is still shared around the world today. America is a place where new beginnings and new lives are possible.
Over the next month, msnbc.com will be profiling outstanding Hispanic activists who are making a difference in the fight for immigration reform and who are providing critical support services to undocumented communities.
Name: Javier H. Valdés
City, State: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation/Organization: Co-executive director, Make the Road New York
How did you get involved with immigration advocacy?
My family’s experience has long been one of immigration: from my grandfather immigrating to Argentina to my parents immigrating to the U.S., we have repeatedly set out to build a life in a new place. One thing that stands out as a common thread in all my ancestors’ stories is that, wherever they went, they survived and thrived by working with their community to build supportive structures and lay down roots for the next generation.
This family experience has guided my work to fight for immigrant rights for more than a decade.
Give us a sense of what your day looks like:
I help co-manage a large institution that has over 150 staff and over 14,000 members. So most of my days are filled talking and collaborating with my colleagues at work and our members about the different issue campaigns that we are tackling.
The moments that I most cherish is when a group of us get together and strategize how to take the next step with our campaigns and I see our members and newer staff take on challenges that not so long ago were seen as insurmountable.
I also spend a lot of time meeting with allies at similar institutions to help build a strong social justice movement here in New York state and push for policies that directly impact the lives of low-wage workers, immigrants and their families.
What is the biggest misconception about immigration reform/undocumented immigrants?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that the American public is against immigration reform. The vast majority of this country believes that the immigration system is broken and it must be fixed. Americans also agree that the key to resolving our broken system is by providing a path to citizenship for those that are already part of our social fabric.
What is your expectation of President Obama and Congress in regard to the border crisis?
President Obama has once again raised and dashed the hopes of immigrant families across the country. Sadly, these disappointments are no longer surprising, and we will escalate to hold all parties, including Congress, accountable for their lack of action to keep our families together.
What type of help is most needed on the ground and how can one get involved?
The needs of our community are great but there is also what we can learn from our community. We strive to help each other and provide a sense of community since most of us have migrated here from a different country.
As families or individuals are settling in to our energetic and sometime chaotic city, they need support to help navigate our large city. From getting help on how to enroll their kids to school, to making sure that they get the correct lease for their apartment, the needs are vast. To get involved, you can visit our website http://www.maketheroadny.org and click participate.
Was there ever an instance when you felt defeated? What made you keep going?
There are many moments in this type of work that you feel defeated, like this year when we lost the vote to pass the New York State DREAM Act by two votes. But also in this type of work, you cannot let those defeats keep you down for too long, and soon afterwards we were back at it to try to figure out how to make this a reality next legislative session. It is that drive and optimism of the members of Make the Road New York that keep me fighting every day.