Latina Giant: Melissa Garcia

I am a first generation Mexican-American. Born from hardworking Mexican parents, the standards and values they set for me were pretty high. As a border town Latina, raised in Nogales, Sonora and Arizona, immigration didn’t come incognito to me, but rather something that I saw on a regular basis. I knew that in order to be successful in this country I had to earn my accomplishments. Growing up life was challenging, adapting to the U.S. and learning a new language was my reality. I remember translating in my head, words from Spanish to English and vice versa during conversations or teaching lessons.

When the time for college arrived, I knew I had to prepare myself with the best tools possible to fight against the odds of being a woman and a Latina. I packed my clothes and drove 300 miles to Tempe, AZ to earn my degree. Sitting in my political science classrooms at Arizona State University was a bit of a reality check to me. I saw firsthand that I was a minority student in a state where demographics showed Latinos were close to being a majority. It clicked! The system is charging out of state tuition to undocumented students who want to pursue a post secondary education at a university. Not only that, but the way we were portrayed and treated -with laws like SB1070- was nauseating. As tuition increased, I could have dropped out of college if I hadn’t made the choice to get loans and work a full time job while I was a full time student. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to channel that anger and turn it into organizing.

I first started organizing in a political campaign to give a voice to thousands of Latinos that live in Arizona through voting. A group of individuals with hunger for respect supported and taught me from beginning to end. I learned that we could create a new town where hate was not a language, where stereotypes were challenged and history re-written. We came close to defeating Sheriff Joe Arpaio, however, I felt like I could breathe change with the 34,000 new Latinos that we had registered to vote that year. Months later, with the leadership and guidance of union leaders, I started to organize workers in the service industry. I believe that change isn’t just about voting and getting more funding for schools, but also creating better paying jobs because we are the ones making this economy function. It took commitment, passion and persistence but I believed that with basic things such as building relationships, pushing through fear, leading by example and fighting for what I believe is right, a new Arizona could be organized.

Today I look back and realize that all the work I did with all of my peers and courageous leaders changed a lot of lives. The standard of jobs in the service industry has improved. That guy who washes your dishes after a happy hour meal is not going to be oppressed because he no longer fears to be fired if he demands respect at his workplace. And just like him, hundreds of Latinos, working families and immigrants feel more confident because change has arrived and there is more on the way. I never imagined that coming from a small town to the capital of the state, I would be blessed to have the opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself that eventually lead to re-writing the history for Latinos. Now, my union brothers and sisters continue the fight in Phoenix, AZ and I, myself have moved to Tucson, excited to be part of the change that this town needs!