Imagine you’re 29. A Latina. You came to the U.S. with your family when you were 15. You’re undocumented, but in 2016, you got DACA status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
What would you do in these uncertain times? Be as inconspicuous as possible? Avoid being in places where there are police? Decline to go to demonstrations focused on immigration?
If you are Kitzia Esteva-Martin, you do none of these things. Instead, you work publicly on behalf of immigrants. You speak up. You allow your name and photo to be used in news stories, such as this one.
Kitzia works with a small grassroots organization, Causa Justa/Just Cause. It is a not-for-profit that works on behalf of low-income Black and Brown communities in Oakland and San Francisco; its work focuses on immigrant rights and housing (https://cjjc.org/about-us/).
Kitzia is the Causa Justa/Just Cause lead organizer for immigrant rights and works closely with a coalition of organizations that advocates for immigrants. Her work is varied and includes the following:
- Talking with undocumented immigrants
- Participating in coalition meetings, such as the Alameda County Rapid Response Network, which fights deportations
- Helping to unite the Black and Brown communities
- Preparing people to speak with the press
- Organizing mobilizations, such as for the demonstration at SF International Airport in response to President Trump’s executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
When she was attending UC Santa Barbara, Kitzia was active in workers’ rights. One campaign involved a contractor who was building graduate student housing and hired undocumented workers. They were not paid for three months and were told that ICE would be called, if they complained. At first, the university claimed that it wasn’t culpable because they hadn’t hired the workers. After the company went into bankruptcy, the university paid the wages.
“It was one of the first moments when I realized people needed to know their rights as workers. As immigrants. This is what taught me to be an organizer, to support people to know how to assert their rights and build social services,” explained Kitzia.
When I learned that Kitzia was undocumented, I asked her if she was sure that she wanted me to use her name and share her photo in this story. She thanked me for asking and then explained why she didn’t want to use a pseudonym.
“It’s important for me to speak out on immigration rights. We’ve been out of the shadows for a while and we can’t hide. And it’s important not to hide,” she said.
When I’ve shared Kitzia’s words with other people, they are in awe of her courage and determination to speak up, as am I.
This originally ran in Oakland Voices, a citizens’ journalist project funded by The California Endowment.