Women for a Change: A Grassroots Guide to Activism and Politics

By Thalia Zepatos; Elizabeth Kaufman | Go to book overview

my kids to get a good education -- that everybody had the right to a good education and a good future. We wanted to raise the minimum wage, but we knew that a lot of immigrants weren't even earning that much.

After I spoke, Kennedy came and congratulated me. Then my kids came to me and said, "We're really proud of you." What they said was more important to me than shaking Kennedy's hand. I was somebody important, at least for my children.

There was a commission of five appointed by the governor to vote on raising the minimum wage. Two members represented the workers, two represented the corporations, and the fifth was the deciding vote. So we went to see Muriel Moore, the woman who was the deciding vote. She lived in Pasadena and I went with other leaders to talk to her, to convince her to vote to raise the minimum wage.

We realized she would have voted with the corporations because they have the money and they would have to pay the minimum wage. First we took her to the garment district to show her the conditions of how people were working there. Then we took her to a tortilla factory and showed her women who were covered with burns and were making nothing. We took her to a house where people were living who worked two or three jobs, and still they could not make it. We took her all over the place, and by the end she was convinced that the minimum wage had to be raised.

A lot of people from LA went to San Francisco when the final vote by the commission was going to happen -- we drove all night in buses, and got there in the morning. We filled up the place where the vote was going to happen. We had to be sure the fifth voted would come through. And it did.

In 1988 we organized another campaign, "Sign Up and Take Charge," to register people to vote during the election. We'd go to the swap meets to register them, we went door to door, we went out in their neighborhoods, to the markets, and to church. In Baldwin Park we registered 11,000 people to vote in a few months and we went further: In my precinct, for the first time, 90% of the people turned out to vote.

A lot of Hispanic women don't get involved in activism because their husbands won't let them. But my husband stayed with the kids at night. Sometimes we had discussions, especially when the food wasn't ready because I was at a meeting. But he understood that I wanted to do something with my life. He wanted me to be happy, and he understood that I was doing something to benefit our kids and other kids, in our community. The kids helped too; the older ones took care of the younger ones. They came to actions, and they loved it, especially if they got to be on TV.

When I started, I didn't know anything about politics -- I didn't know who the mayor was, who my assemblyman was, anything. Now my son is the mayor of the city where I live -- he was the youngest elected mayor in the United States.

-62-

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