How uncovering the history of her hometown helped this mom find her activist voice.
True
The Kresge Foundation

15 years ago, Hilda Villegas' family was counting on her: She needed to find both work and child care, and it couldn't wait.

Hilda was a single mom with two daughters — the oldest was 4 and the youngest only 3 months old. Their father wasn't providing the support they needed, so Hilda had to drop out of college to care for them. The problem was that she had very little work experience, so it wasn't easy to find a job. But her family was depending on her.

Thankfully, her daughter's teacher told her that a local organization called La Mujer Obrera provides great child care and could pick up her kids for day care. She jumped at the chance to sign up.


But La Mujer Obrera is a lot more than just a great child care service. The El Paso, Texas, organization is committed to looking out for members of the surrounding community and helping them in any way it can.

Children of La Mujer Obrera attend the spring festival at Tierra es Vida Community Farm. Image via La Mujer Obrera.

Despite having limited work experience, La Mujer Obrera gave Hilda the chance to work as a receptionist; and that, in turn, helped her learn new job skills. They even helped her secure an apartment that was a five-minute walk from the day care center and in the neighborhood where she'd lived her entire life.

"Being able to live in the barrio and having a job here was ... the best thing for me in terms of a safety net," Hilda says.

La Mujer Obrera took a creative approach to giving this single mom the support she needed, and it's a wonderful example of how it empowers working women.

Founded in 1981 by female garment workers and Chicana activists, La Mujer Obrera focuses on basic human rights for women of Mexican heritage. It hosts community organizing programs to help local residents stand up for their rights when it comes to economic and environmental issues.

La Mujer Obrera leaders also recognize that residents like Hilda can't show up for community organizing unless they have some of their basic needs taken care of. After all, juggling work and family responsibilities along with community involvement isn't easy.

So by providing things like child care, nutritious food, and job training, La Mujer Obrera is helping community members attend civic meetings and get their voices heard.

That's also why the nonprofit's programs include a community farm and farmers market that provide jobs and fresh, healthy food. It operates these programs thanks to a grant from The Kresge Foundation's Fresh, Local, and Equitable initiative, known as FreshLo.

The grant is especially important to La Mujer Obrera because the funding comes from an organization that also focuses on multiple aspects that revitalize a community — like arts and culture, health, and community development — rather than just one of those aspects.

An educational workshop on nutrition and fresh food preparation. Image via La Mujer Obrera.

At La Mujer Obrera, fresh food goes hand-in-hand with empowering the community. By maintaining the farm and market, the leaders help local immigrants stay connected to the food that helps them feel at home, such as nopales, a nutritious type of cacti that’s common in Mexico. This also gives residents a chance to connect with nature and green space, which is all too rare in the area.

For the garment workers who once helped establish the organization, being exploited in dehumanizing conditions like concrete factories was the norm. So now, La Mujer Obrera sees reconnecting with the land in nourishing ways as a form of resistance.

A children's march for education, led in part by Hilda's daughter, Katherine, on the left. Image via Hilda Villegas.

With the organization's support, Hilda didn't have to stress as much about providing for her family — which, in turn, helped her focus on the needs of her community.

"They gave me the opportunity to learn how to speak, how to define myself," she says. "A person can actually grow to their full potential, knowing that you have this organization that cares, not just about you, but about your kids … and they actually care about the community."

Hilda went on to participate in several of La Mujer Obrera's community organizing programs — including community outreach, educational workshops on local government, and environmental studies — to learn more about the effects of the area's poor air quality. In the process of learning community organizing strategies, she also uncovered the history of how immigrants built her community and how her ancestors survived.

For example, the La Mujer Obrera Community farm serves as an educational hub for workshops. While cooking workshops teach participants how to prepare healthy food like nopales, they also provide history lessons on how the ancestors used different types of cacti over the course of their lifetimes. In the process, participants get a chance to discover how cultivating fresh food plays a role in keeping families and communities united.

As she has learned and recruited more residents to participate, she has also developed leadership skills. In fact, she's now the community organizer for a project called Familias Unidas del Chamizal.

A display at La Mujer Obrera's 2017 Ancestral Health Fair. Image via La Mujer Obrera.

Hilda is helping Barrio Chamizal, the neighborhood where she grew up, keep its schools open, address environmental hazards, and secure vital resources such as fresh food for the underserved community. Her knowledge will help her neighbors continue to lift up their neighborhood for many years to come.

From being a struggling resident in need of opportunity to becoming a community leader, Hilda has come full circle.

It's a remarkable transformation, but Hilda points out she's far from the first to uncover her power and use it for good. La Mujer Obrera is simply building on the wisdom that's been present in her community for centuries.

Hilda with her daughter, Mary Ann. Image via Hilda Villegas.

Hilda tears up when she thinks about how her work will help the next generation. She has four children now, and the two daughters she first brought to La Mujer Obrera's day care center are now 16 and 19 years old. They've been empowered to make positive change too.

For example, through La Mujer Obrera, Hilda's 16-year-old daughter, Katherine, is learning about an environmentally sustainable practice called water harvesting that her ancestors actually used. She helps collect rainwater to grow the community farm produce, such as dark leafy greens, multi-colored peppers, and fragrant herbs.

Every day, Hilda and her family continue to learn more about the environment, their health, and the role that food plays in community wellness. Hilda still considers herself new to healthy eating, but she's so inspired by ancestral practices like water harvesting and cultivating edible plants that her attempts are turning into habits.

While these practices improve her quality of life, they just might help save the planet, too.

"[Our ancestors] respected the earth and what it represented. The earth is life for us," Hilda says. "The only ones that can defend the earth are the people — the people that live here."

True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less

Biases, stereotypes, prejudices—these byproducts of the human brain's natural tendency to generalize and categorize have been a root cause of most of humanity's problems for, well, pretty much ever. None of us is immune to those tendencies, and since they can easily slip in unnoticed, we all have to be aware of where, when, and how they impact our own beliefs and actions.

It also helps when someone upends a stereotype by saying or doing something unexpected.

Fair or not, certain parts of the U.S. are associated with certain cultural assumptions, perhaps none more pinholed than the rural south. When we hear Appalachia, a certain stereotype probably pops up in our minds—probably white, probably not well educated, probably racist. Even if there is some basis to a stereotype, we must always remember that human beings can never be painted with such broad strokes.

Enter Tyler Childers, a rising country music star whose old-school country fiddling has endeared him to a broad audience, but his new album may have a different kind of reach. "Long Violent History" was released Friday, along with a video message to his white rural fans explaining the culminating track by the same name. Watch it here:

Keep Reading Show less
True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less

The legality of abortion is one of the most polarized debates in America—but it doesn’t have to be.

People have big feelings about abortion, which is understandable. On one hand, you have people who feel that abortion is a fundamental women’s rights issue, that our bodily autonomy is not something you can legislate, and that those who oppose abortion rights are trying to control women through oppressive legislation. On the other, you have folks who believe that a fetus is a human individual first and foremost, that no one has the right to terminate a human life, and that those who support abortion rights are heartless murderers.

Then there are those of us in the messy middle. Those who believe that life begins at conception, that abortion isn’t something we’d choose—and we’d hope others wouldn’t choose—under most circumstances, yet who choose to vote to keep abortion legal.

Keep Reading Show less
@frajds / Twitter

Father Alek Schrenk is known as one of the "9 Priests You Need to Follow on Twitter." He proved his social media skills Sunday night after finding a creepy note on a parked car and weaving a lurid Twitter tale that kept his followers on the edge of their pews.

Father Schrenk was making his nightly walk of the church grounds to make sure everything was fine before retiring to the rectory, when he found a car parked by itself in front of the school.

Curious, he looked inside the car and saw a note that made his "blood run cold" attached to the steering wheel. "Look in trunk!" the note read. What made it extra creepy was that the two Os in "look" had smiley faces.

Keep Reading Show less