Posted on September 25, 2019 | Megan Macaraeg, Many Languages One Voice (MLOV)
Every few weeks, the Weissberg Foundation features a story from one of our Reframing <Washington> Empowerment Fund grantee partners to shine a light on their critical work. Learn more about these powerful organizations by visiting their websites.
Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) organizes DC’s immigrant youth and adults to fight for systemic changes that can positively impact their lives, particularly in the areas of education, labor, and language access. Through a unique approach to leadership development, MLOV seeks to build the power of DC’s immigrant communities to live with dignity, respect and justice by building a space of power and resilience.
When you meet with Francis, it’s easy to see the smiling, cheerful 15-year-old who loves soccer and is excited about his new school. “All I want is some soccer cleats so I can start playing soccer again,” he says with a huge grin in a meeting with MLOV organizers at his home this summer. But less than two months ago, Francis and his father Armando had just left Honduras on what would be a harrowing 16-day journey, traveling night and day with tremendous courage and fortitude, only to be separated at the Texas border.
Armando has five children, and one by one and with the help of MLOV’s Santuary Organizer, Jairo Valencia, he is bringing his family together and building a new life in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of DC. They have left Honduras in the face of crushing poverty, violence, and food insecurity. “Everyone is so poor and we came here looking for a better life and to make things better for our family,” said Armando. He knew the journey would be hard, but his faith and his love for family kept him going.
“We crossed three borders, waiting alone for several hours at each crossing, not knowing where we were or whether we could continue. But God is great and took care of us. The minute we decided to take the voyage, we put ourselves in the hands of God,” says Armando. It was a journey crossing three countries and over 3000 miles. But the hardest part of the journey was when Armando and Francis were separated at the US-Mexico border. They were both detained in the same complex but different areas. Says Francis, “I was very scared and sad because I couldn’t see my Dad.” Armando was released from detention before Francis, and with MLOV’s help, Francis reunited with his family in Mt. Pleasant in under a week. Typically, migrant children can suffer for months or even become permanently lost in detention or the child welfare system. With MLOV’s support, families are often reunited in less than two weeks.
MLOV labor promotora Zeferina Avila is assisting the family in accessing health insurance – a process of staff collaboration that has been repeated with dozens of families just this year. MLOV youth leader and membership coordinator Miguel Castro has helped Francis enroll in school. Miguel himself came to DC, as a young boy turning 15. Led by his own story, Miguel has now come full circle to ensure Francis does not have to go through the process alone as he did.
MLOV sanctuary organizer Jairo Valencia began working on the DC “Sanctuary Campaign” over two years ago, as part of a national effort to establish municipalities and other jurisdictions as “Sanctuary” locations for immigrants and refugees. This is an integral part of the MLOV programs. Sanctuary spaces are locations where immigrants will be welcomed and kept safe from abusive, illegal policing and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) action. Jairo has been able to help Francis and Armando and dozens of families, to be together again.
The coming days provide us with opportunities for incremental but significant and deep change. You can call your Councilmember and demand an end to collaboration between DC Jails and ICE, a practice that feeds the deportation machine and destroys families, friendships, and neighborhoods. MLOV works closely with our friends at Sanctuary DMV on this campaign. Visit: http://sanctuarydmv.org/contact-dc-councilmembers/ for more information.
While systems change comes slowly, we always have the opportunity to reach out to our friends and neighbors and begin to bridge the gulf that US imperialism, capitalism, and racism have created between us. If you would like to get to know a recently arrived family and help with furniture, school supplies, food security, and other needs as they arise, contact Jairo Valencia at [email protected].To learn more or talk with our neighbors and organizers, contact Megan Macaraeg at [email protected].
Megan Macaraeg was born in the Pilipinas in Lingayen, Pangasinan and migrated here with her family during the Marcos dictatorship. Megan brings 20 years of experience in community organizing to her current role as Interim Executive Director at Many Languages One Voice and has played many roles in social justice/social change organizations, from statewide coalition and base-building work, to door-to-door tenant and resident organizing across the country. Deportation defense and building community capacity to resist raids and other terror tactics is close to her heart and lived experience. In fact, Megan supported her 12-year old daughter Joannah Molina Macaraeg in a national campaign to stop her father’s deportation. Megan is passionately committed to true sanctuary for everyone!