Recess Blog

Immigrant Mothers' Self-Advocacy

By Rob Schroeder
October 16, 2017

In 2014, 43 male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in the Mexican state of Guerrero were kidnapped when on their way to taking part in an anniversary protest of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City, during which students and civilians were fired upon by military and police in the city of Iguala to suppress political opposition.  While accounts differ, local consensus and independent investigations, implicate local and federal government forces leading the kidnapping.

The powerful reactions and advocacy from the students’ families, particularly their mothers, is one of the core inspirations of Laura Ramírez’s dissertation studies at the College.  As a PhD Policy Studies in Urban Education candidate, Ramírez is examining how an awakening of political consciousness through engagement in struggles for their children’s educational and human rights propels women to become advocates for themselves, their children and their community.

Laura Ramirez engaged in a protest at the Mexican consulate in Chicago.

Her research is also examining the experiences of newly arrived immigrants in Chicago, through the lens of her previous work with the Education Rights Coalition, a coalition she co-founded while working as an education organizer at the Southwest Youth Collaborative, as South side community organization highly active in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  Over time, the organization advocated for the city to adopt the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international human rights framework.  Since then, Ramírez has worked with parents, particularly in Pilsen, Little Village and the Southwest side, organizing for educational equity.

“When we think about newly-arrived immigrants here and how they are served through schools’ bilingual and English language learner services, we know Chicago has a terrible system,” Ramírez said. “There are different types of English language learner instruction, but only 15 public schools in the entire city are considered dual language.”

Ramírez says she has observed how parent energy coalescing around school issues has changed dialogue regarding education in the city.  For example, when Pilsen parents camped out in a school fieldhouse for 43 days to save the facility and demand a school library, Ramírez says parents became more engaged in fighting for their children’s rights across a breadth of educational issues.

She also has worked to raise consciousness about how the effects of neoliberalism exhibited in urban school districts like Chicago have been exported to other countries such in the case of Mexico.  Privatization is a driving force in parts of Mexico, including in Iguala, where some residents believe economic pressure from a Canadian mining company drove the kidnapping of the student-teachers, who fought adamantly for the rights to the land of inhabitants in the city.

“We have been able to create a transnational organizing movement able to connect directly with parents in Mexico,” Ramírez said. “When you meet them and learn about their experiences searching for their [kidnapped] children, this has galvanized a lot of Latino immigrants and allies.”

Ramírez had the honor of interviewing a number of parents involved in acts of resistance for their children’s rights as part of her dissertation studies as well as her organizing work, identifying how they developed political roles after previously identifying as apolitical. In the case of Ayotzinapa, Mothers left their homes and moved into the college, becoming full-time advocates for the rights of all people in Mexico who have disappeared, numbering more than 28,000 since 2008 as well as continuing the physical search for their disappeared children.  Women who previously viewed their main roles as providing for their children or being house wives developed a political platform that confronted national leaders, forced the firing of the attorney general, generated international press

“Parents can create extraordinary measures to push the school system and the local government to give them the type of education they believe their children deserve, as well was hold these institutions accountable for the violations of the human rights of their children,” Ramírez said.

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