Joanuen & Rocio
Inspiring immigrants to become active citizens
Joanuen Lllamas and Rocio Valdez know the power of belief. Llamas, a member of L.A. Voice in Los Angeles, and Valdez, with North Valley Sponsoring Committee (NVSC) outside Sacramento, are leaders in PICO’s work to help legal, permanent residents become citizens, while training them to be active members of their communities. Both women are helping their fellow immigrants develop the belief that, together, they can have power to effect real change in the U.S.
Along with millions of immigrants across the country, both Llamas and Valdez were drawn to participate in the recent marches for comprehensive immigration reform. For both women, this experience sparked them to deepen their involvement.
“I used to stay in my house, with my children all day. But I had a sense that I wanted to change,” recalls Llamas, a mother of three from Guadalajara. “At the marches I saw people wearing t-shirts saying, ‘today we march, tomorrow we vote.’ But I remember asking, ‘How? How do we do it?’”
“For me, it all started seeing my parents participate for the first time in their lives marching in the streets with the US flag saying that we are the next generation of US citizens,” says Valdez, who is originally from Mexicali and came to the U.S at age 16. “Their mentality changed with the marches. I had never seen them do anything like that before.”
Getting involved in PICO tapped a deep desire in both Llamas and Valdez to help immigrants change their ideas about the importance of participating in their communities. “I want to teach other people why it is important to be an active citizen. Why it is important to be part of the change,” says Llamas.
“But a lot of my people don’t understand,” continues Valdez. “They don’t know the power that voting gives us. I see a difference when people realize how powerful this is.”
Both Llamas and Valdez have an unwavering resolve to inspire their fellow immigrants. When Llamas comes up against immigrants who don’t think that their vote will make a difference, she responds with a clear message. “No, you need to vote,” says Llamas. “If you don’t vote, the political officials won’t pay attention to your community. We need to vote to say, ‘We are here. We have power.’”
Valdez says that the first question she asks when she begins teaching a new class of immigrants is, “Do you think you’re powerful?”
“Nobody raises their hand,” says Valdez. “But people come and they are ready to listen, ready to learn…And we start talking with them about what’s happening in the community. People start seeing things and they start thinking, ‘Can we do that?’ And I say, ‘yes, we can.’”
Llamas summed it up well. “You don’t’ change anything if you stay in your house.”