From Del. Elizabeth Guzman:
FLOOR SPEECH: Delegate Guzman Honors Isabel Allende and Dolores Huerta, Calls Out Systemic Racism Against Latinx Community
|In case you missed it, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) delivered the following floor speech in honor of International Women’s Day:
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise on this International Women’s Day to honor two Latinas whose contributions to the United States are indisputable and indelible. International women have come to this country and become trailblazers. They have built families and raised daughters who have grown up to make history. Today, I wish to honor two women, one an immigrant and the other one a Mexican-American, who have given so much to this country.
“The first is Isabel Allende, a Chilean novelist who was born in Peru and is now an American citizen living in California. Much of Allende’s work centers on women who have challenged patriarchal systems, and she has earned accolades around the world. Yet Allende has said she’s even more proud of her ability to help people than she is of her writing. Her foundation supports women and girls in securing reproductive rights, economic independence and freedom from violence.
“The second is the labor leader Dolores Huerta, a Mexican-American who commanded spaces historically held by white men to fight for the farm workers who feed us. Her work helped generate political support for the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law recognizing the rights of California farmworkers to bargain collectively in 1975.
“These women accomplished remarkable things, yet I cannot stand here and give a speech that celebrates their achievements in a vacuum. Because in the last two weeks, I saw three egregious examples of how our government continues to perpetuate systemic racism against the Latinx community.
“First, a member of the Virginia Beach School Board said it was not sustainable to fund ESL programs for South American children. That hurt me, because I came to this country as a single mother with a six-year-old little girl who needed ESL services, and my three younger children also received ESL support because we speak Spanish at home and we are proud of it. Pamela, my oldest daughter, is now an adult who’s building a career in public service, and I’m so proud of her. Yet this school board members sees children like her, children who might grow up to do incredible things for the people of this Commonwealth, as a burden rather than an investment, Mr. Speaker.
“Then last week, I watched one of my colleagues stand here on the floor and argue that farmworkers did not deserve overtime pay protections because this is the way this industry works. Let me remind this body that agricultural workers — who at a time where predominantly Black — were excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act as a compromise to get Southern states to vote for it. The failure to provide fair labor standards for farm workers is a direct legacy of slavery and sharecropping, and there is not the political will to fix it because farmworkers are still Brown people. They have come into my office, they have come to the Commerce and Labor Committee and spoken to us in their language about their working conditions, about not even being allowed a break to drink water or go to the bathroom. That hurts me, it hurts me to see my colleagues refuse to offer farmworkers the same protections as other workers. Agriculture is Virginia’s number one industry, but we are not taking care of the people who are making it number one, Mr. Speaker.
“And then on Sunday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published the first part of an investigation into how the failures of our health department contributed to Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on Latinos, who in the first two years of this pandemic were the group most likely to become infected, to be hospitalized, and to die. The paper found that three months into the pandemic Latinos in Richmond were 38 times more likely to be infected than white residents and 17 times more likely to be hospitalized. And when a vaccine became available, VDH relied on Google Translate to convey life-saving information resulting in an inaccurate translation of “the vaccine is not necessary” instead of the “the vaccine is not required” to be posted to the VDH website for a month.
“A year later, the agency still does not track how many of its employees speak Spanish so they can help prevent this mistake from happening again. For two decades, Virginia has failed to properly fund this agency. We fail to invest in language access and bilingual community healthcare workers to do outreach to Spanish speakers. The results have been devastating but are a surprise to no one. Virginia simply has not cared enough to invest in health care for our most vulnerable populations, many of whom were the frontline workers who powered us through the pandemic.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise on this International Women’s Day with resolve. I rise with inspiration from Latinas like Isabel and Dolores, who both used the power of their words — both in English and in Spanish — to challenge systems of oppression. We should not celebrate with platitudes that do not address the reality of so many of the immigrants who live right here in this Commonwealth and right here in the city of Richmond.
“Instead, we must honor their legacy by educating children who speak English as a second language, by paying our farmworkers — essential workers, who grow the food that we eat — and by investing the resources to make sure the Latinx community is not dying from lack of access to health care. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”