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Voces For Change

Author: Maria Peña

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This weekly, bilingual podcast highlights unsung heroes, mostly Hispanic, who are making a difference in their local communities across the United States and Puerto Rico, as volunteers, entrepreneurs, researchers, or advocates for social justice, racial equity, and social change.
20 Episodes
Latinos were key to president-elect Joe Biden´s victory, even  in places like Arizona and Nevada. However, there won´t be a honeymoon period and his progressive agenda likely hinge on whether or not Democrats capture Senate control in a runoff election in Georgia on January 5th.In this episode, Kenneth Romero, executive director of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, discuss how  important it is that Biden names at least 5 Latinos to his Cabinet, and what advocacy groups can to push for pressing issues like immigration reform next year. 
On the eve of Election Day, more than 93 million people have already voted, either in person or by mail, but millions more will come out on Tuesday, November 3rd.In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of close to 230,000 people, health and the economy are the top issues driving voters to the polls.Immigrant rights activist and breast cancer survivor, Adela De La Torre voted by mail because of her medical condition, and is using her experience to urge people to come out and vote, to preserve health coverage for those who risk losing it next year. This election, she says, is a matter of life and death. 
In this episode, Salvadoran TPS holder, Yanira Arias, an activist with Chicago-based Alianza Américas, discusses the risks of deportation roughly 2.2 million immigrants face next year, including herself, if the next president does not offer them "deferred enforced departure", a temporary legal remedy while Congress works on a long term solution. Her group joined more than 200 other like-minded organizations last Friday in sending letters to President, Donald Trump, and Democratic presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, urging either one to help these vulnerable immigrants. Arias, who was granted TPS some 21 years ago, says El Salvador is still a dangerous place to live and work in, and it´s not ready to absorb the thousands of Salvadorans that would likely be deported once their permits expire. Unless Congress or the White House act fast next year. 
In a wide-ranging phone interview in Spanish, Dr. Oscar Franco, prolific author and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard´s School of Health, discusses the progress and hurdles in the ongoing battle against COVID-19, in light of President Donald Trump´s recent diagnosis. Franco gives some historical perspective on pandemics and gives listeners a hopeful message: "we´ll get through this." Photo credit:
ICE has already faced lawsuits and allegations of medical neglect, abuse, and unsafe confinement conditions. A new whistleblower complaint, now under DHS investigation, claims that many migrant detainees at an ICE facility in Ocilla (Georgia) had hysterectomies and other procedures without their full knowledge and consent. In this episode, Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of Women´s Health and Rights at the Center for American Progress, explains the seriousness of the allegations, the past history of forced sterilizations in the US, and the need for congressional oversight. 
In this episode, I decided to do something a bit different, given that, next Wednesday, we´ll be exactly two months away from the elections. I interviewed Charles Stewart, a political analyst and expert on elections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He explains the current political landscape, debunks the myth of the mail-in vote fraud, and describes possible escenarios after November 3rd. 
In episode 14, Dr. Erika Sutherland, an Associate Professor in Spanish at Muhlenberg College, in Allentown (Pennsylvania),  speaks about her efforts to train bilingual poll workers to help Latino voters at the polling stations. There´s an alarming shortage of poll workers worsened by this year´s COVID-19 pandemic. But that´s not the only hurdle voters are facing this year: in addition to long lines and delays, activists fear voter intimidation and suppression, and unprecedented delays in getting and sending mail-in ballots.The US Postal System, led by a Trump supporter, has adopted controversial cost-cutting measures that, according to Sutherland and other experts, can spell trouble at the ballot box. Sutherland, who´s also worked as a poll worker in the past, is training bilingual workers so Latino voters can get the help they need in November. 
In this episode, I interview Helena Olea, a international human rights lawyer and currently an Associate Director for Programs at Alianza Americas, a Hispanic advocacy group in Chicago (Illinois), about the current landscape for the Latino vote in 2020. Around 32 million Hispanics are eligible to vote this year, and it´s a fact that´s not lost on Biden´s and Trump´s campaigns, as they´re both courting Hispanics aggressively through radio and TV ads and surrogates.Helena argues that Hispanics have now had almost four years of Trump´s policies and they´re motivated to head to the polls, driven by his immigration crackdown, the pandemic, and high unemployment, among many bread and butter issues. Hispanics are revved up but many still lack information about voter registration and, in the midst of the pandemic, how to vote by email, so that´s one area many groups like Alianza Americas are now aggressively targeting. 
This episode will be different because of the first anniversary of the shooting outside a Walmart in El Paso (Texas), which left 23 dead. I interview Mr. Gilberto Anchondo, who lost his youngest son, André Pablo, and his daughter-in-law, Jordan, in the massacre. The Anchondos are now helping to raise Paul Gilbert, the victims´ youngest son, whom they shielded with their bodies and saved his life on that fateful day. Activists are using the anniversary as a call to action to come out and vote against racism in November. In the interview, Mr. Anchondo works through memories from the day, the tough road ahead towards closure, and the many challenges of raising his grandson. 
In this episode, I interview Robert Lopez, a community organizer with the Texas Civil Rights Project, one of several groups suing the Department of Homeland Security to stop it from detaining unaccompanied minors in hotels and deporting them without a court hearing. Activists like Lopez charge that the Trump Administration is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to expedite the deportation of children and asylum seekers at the border. Deportation has long been a lucrative business for private companies under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), from providing deportation flights to now allowing minors to be housed in hotels. Activists are calling these hotels "black sites", especially because ICE is not providing information about the whereabouts of children under federal custody. Since the story broke last week, the Hampton Inn & Suites is no longer doing business with ICE, according to the Hilton hotel chain. 
In episode 9 of Voces For Change, Cristina Jiménez, co-founder and executive director of United We Dream talks about the passing of Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the 1960´s civil rights movement, his legacy and his impact on the immigrant rights movement of today. Lewis often shared his experiences as an African American activist fighting for civil rights with Dreamer activists like Cristina, and he supported comprehensive immigration reform. When speaking to reporters or speaking out during a hearing on the Hill, the Georgia congressman often liked to say that it didn´t matter how people came to the U.S. because "we´re now in the same boat." Cristina reflects on his words and his body of work, and how his legacy lives on through the fight for immigration reform and social justice. 
Entrevista con Ben Monterroso, un activista con mucha experiencia en la comunidad inmigrante y que predica con el ejemplo. Monterroso emigró ilegalmente de Guatemala a Estados Unidos, donde comenzó desde abajo trabajando como janitor en California. Encontró su vocación como organizador comunitario tras la puesta en marcha de la Propuesta 187, una medida anti-inmigrante del entonces gobernador republicano, Pete Wilson. Desde entonces, ha participado en protestas callejeras, campañas de presión ante el Congreso por una reforma migratoria, y ahora trabaja con Poder Latinx para movilizar el voto hispano en los comicios del próximo 3 de noviembre. Si necesitan información sobre cómo inscribirse o dónde están los centros de votación más cercanos, envío el texto PODER a 52886 desde su teléfono móvil para recibir detalles. El voto latino será clave en 2020, así es que Monterroso les aconseja: "no se queden en casa!"
For this episode, we reached out to Sara Fernandez, an activist with Project SALUD, a program of the Rural Women's Health Project (RWHP), working to educate farmworkers on many health issues, including COVID-19, in North and Central Florida.Florida broke a new record of new coronavirus cases over the weekend, with over 18,115 cases. The situation is especially alarming in rural areas, where Hispanic farmworkers harvest fruits and vegetables but they don´t readily have access to information in their own language on how to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
On the heels of two dramatic Supreme Court rulings, one upholding gay rights in the workplace, and the other halting the end of DACA for Dreamers, we chat with Antonio Arellano, a 29-year old gay Dreamer and interim director of JOLT, the largest civic organization in Texas seeking to mobilize and empower young Latino voters. Arellano discusses the impact of the rulings on the Hispanic community, the next steps in defending DACA, and the failings of political candidates as they seek the Hispanic vote in November, among other hot button issues. 
Exactly 8 years ago today, President Barack Obama announced DACA for thousands of undocumented youth and, any day now, the Supreme Court will decide their fate. A leader in the Dreamer movement, Cesar Vargas made history in 2016, when he became the first undocumented lawyer in NY. He later joined the Army Reserves and, on the verge of getting his US citizenship, he is now working in the NYC council helping to draft pro-immigrant legislation. He tells Dreamers they´re not alone. 
In episode #4, I interview Luis De León, an investigative reporter turned artist, who set down roots in Louisville, Kentucky, after fleeing death threats in Guatemala in 2009. Through his simple drawings he reflects on complex social issues, including the massive street protests against police brutality, and the recent killing of Breonna Taylor, an African American EMT killed by police in error during a drug sting operation in Louisville. One of his drawings very graphically shows an AK-47 next to a silhouette of a dead man in a pool of blood, which brought back traumatic memories from his younger years in Guatemala. He talks about his hopes and fears, and encourages young people to pursue their dreams and to be compassionate. De Leon is a firm believer in art as a catalyst for change, both personal and societal. 
In this English-language podcast, Lizbeth Abeln, an activist with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, in Adelanto, California, explains why ICE needs to release immigrant detainees at risk of contracting COVID-19, given how difficult it is to practice social distancing in cells. ICE is the target of lawsuits and reports from human rights groups alleging inadequate care of detainees. 
In this Spanish-language podcast, MLB legend, Dennis Martínez, talks about his efforts to raise money for healthcare workers in his native Nicaragua, who are on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic without adequate protective gear or supplies. Martinez became the first Nicaraguan to play in the Major Leagues. He made history in July of 1991 when, as part of the Montreal Expos, he pitched the "perfect game", beating the L.A. Dodgers 2-0. Martinez has joined efforts through a GoFundMe page to raise $ for Nicaraguan healthcare workers, hoping to get another "perfect game" and strike out the coronavirus. 
In this Spanish-language podcast, we talk with Arturo Massol-Deya, an environmental activist with Casa Pueblo, who is leading the charge in Puerto Rico to promote the use of solar panels and reduce environmental pollution driven by fossil fuels. After hurricane "Maria" made landfall in September of 2017, practically the whole island went dark. But    Casa Pueblo, nestled in Adjuntas, was the only place where people could recharge their phones, medical equipment, and. other electrical devices. Massol-Deya argues that solar panels are a good investment, because, based on what happened in Puerto Rico, outages are actually costlier in terms of loss of lives and economic productivity. 
In this episode, I explain the scope of this weekly, bilingual episode, where I´ll introduce my audience to people who are making a difference in their local communities across the United States and Puerto Rico, by volunteering, launching businesses, mentoring youth, or advocating for social justice and social change. 
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