From Mobilize the Immigrant Vote!
San Jose, California
The child of immigrant parents from Durango and Guanajuato, Mexico, Patricia Diaz grew up in the small rural town of Soledad, California. She was raised in an environment full of rules and structures because they lived on an agricultural company ranch. In college, Ms. Diaz became engaged in the fight against Proposition 187, which sought to deny undocumented immigrants access to health care, education, and social services. This was a formative time for her and became a vehicle to leverage the experiences of her childhood into a trajectory of activism and leadership.
“After Proposition 187, we saw Proposition 227 and Proposition 209, which sought to eliminate bilingual education and affirmative action,” says Ms. Diaz, “I saw our state moving backwards rather than forwards. I had attended a K-8 school in a poor rural community with just 50 students, which taught me about the need for bilingual and quality education. Our school was always last in its scores, not because the students weren’t smart, but because of the lack of resources. Affirmative action helped open doors for me, and I felt a strong pull to take on these attacks on our communities and be a part of positive social change. I studied social work which was how I began to learn more about oppression. It was so powerful to understand the commonalities that women, people of color, and immigrants faced. In a social policy class, I saw the key role of public policy in affecting the options which poor and marginalized communities have access to. That was a turning point for me where I became clear on my life purpose – to improve the lives of poor communities and to ensure that poor and immigrant communities themselves take the lead in these changes.”
Today, Ms. Diaz is the Executive Director of Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose. SIREN began as an ad-hoc coalition of immigrant rights activists and advocates in 1987 and has evolved to become one of the premiere immigrant rights organizations of Northern California with a leadership role in the California Immigrant Policy Center, the California Table of Reform Immigration for America, Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, and California Partnership. SIREN participates actively in regional and local networks affecting immigrants and refugees and is an emerging national leader promoting immigrant rights and services for immigrants. SIREN is unique among immigrant rights organizations in that it combines policy work, community organizing, and direct services.
Women’s Leadership Development
“If you have been marginalized in your life, it continues you with forever,” shares Ms. Diaz. “A critical step in leadership development in general and in the development of women’s leadership is to embrace the unique aspects you have as a leader and not to see your experiences and culture as a deficit. For example, I grew up in a home with no specific gender roles—everyone had to help, the children helped with cooking, cleaning and gardening; everyone had to contribute to sustain the whole. This experience of collaborative living has made a huge and positive impact on the leader I am today.”
“I have participated in the Ethnic Leadership Program of the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits,” says Ms. Diaz. “Through this program, I have embraced the qualities I have as an ethnic woman leader. Before that, I tried to fit myself in a traditional model of leadership in which the leader is at the center, talks a lot, dominates, makes all the decisions, and is usually a man. Through workshops with the Ethnic Leadership Program, I’ve identified key leadership qualities that I possess, that many women leaders possess, and that are critical to success: transparency, shared leadership, and recognition of team efforts—none of which are the traditional qualities of leadership in the male-dominated paradigm.”
“In thinking about women’s leadership development, it is essential to start with a good understanding of the upbringing of the women involved. What are their ethnic histories? How have these experiences influenced their leadership styles? What are the challenges they face? What are the qualities they already possess to overcome challenges?”
Civic Engagement and Policy Change
In analyzing federal immigration reform, Ms. Diaz points to the fundamental reality that today’s society is still not safe and secure for women and therefore must be taken into consideration at every level of policy development. Sexual exploitation, denial of reproductive rights, lack of structural support to embrace a women’s choice to have children, lack of childcare in workplaces, and domestic violence are all critical issues for women and their children. “With the California Immigrant Policy Center, we have been working for years, and with great success, to protect the rights of immigrants and immigrant women through statewide policy change. Another important consideration for federal immigration reform is the need to integrate jobs that have been traditionally filled by women. For example, most current temporary worker programs proposals focus on jobs that are generally filled by men rather than domestic work and other jobs often done by immigrant women.”
Ms. Diaz continues to lead SIREN along with a team of talented staff, grassroots leaders, and allied organizations. 2011 will be a key year to promote naturalization, continue to defend the rights of immigrants and marginalized communities in the California budget, and strengthen SIREN’s integrated voter engagement efforts.
For more information on Ms. Diaz and SIREN, contact: Patricia Diaz, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.siren-bayarea.org . Ms. Diaz serves on the Statewide Steering Committee of Mobilize the Immigrant Vote.