THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Gracia Molina Enrique de Pick
1928 – 2019
VFA Symposium on “Past Victories and Mistakes, Future Challenges,” November 13, 2006, Columbia University Faculty House and Barnard College, New York City
Muriel Fox: I’m very pleased the next speaker is the one whose biography gave me the most trouble – Gracia Molina de Pick – because for so long there is so much she has accomplished. I’m very pleased to introduce a member of the board of Veteran Feminists of America, Gracia Molina de Pick.
Gracia Molina de Pick: I am very happy to be here. I said when I accepted to come here that my activism is defined by the place I live in. I’m a border woman.
What does it mean to be a border woman? A border with Mexico – for the amount of crossings by Latinos documented, undocumented, authorized or not authorized. Nevertheless, it is a border that for many of us is artificial. I would like you to learn a little bit about what it is like to be living on the border. Our lives are characterized by violence.
I know what violence is like. I’m a feminist because very early on I felt the anger of being told what I could or could not be. I was a child when I did that. However, I did perceive because of my family having been involved in the Mexican Revolution, that there were ways in which you could change the way things were. And one was the revolution on guns and the other was through the vote.
So, my early activist feminism had to do with getting women the right to vote in Mexico. I started at 17 years of age and worked for 10 years on that. The first time that Mexican women were allowed to vote in presidential elections, I came to live permanently in the United States, so I never voted in Mexico. But the work was done.
Why do I want to speak about the violence in the border? One of the first things that I had known through literature but had not lived through, was my introduction to two very important books in my trying to figure out what the United States was about. One of them was Native Son. The other one had to deal with an essay by Octavio Paz about what it meant to be a Mexican in Los Angeles.
Octavio Paz was a councilman in the Mexican consulate when the sailors in the United States Navy in the 40s rioted against the Mexican youth and they beat up and killed many of the people that were identified as Mexicans because of the way they dressed. Octavio Paz wrote in a very important message to Mexicans that actually for some people to be a Mexican is a matter of life and death. It continues to be the case. It is a matter of life and death.
We live under tremendous pressure in our communities by repressive groups such as the police who always see us as not belonging. Who particularly target our male youth for detention, beat ups, killings, whatever. Effectively they try and they do intimidate the community. Nevertheless, the Mexican people and the women amongst them have recently gotten a tremendous boost which works both ways.
Now people ask me, “Are you an expert in immigration?” You’re all experts in immigration. Every one of you is an expert in immigration. I am. You are because you have immigrants all around you. And I’m not speaking about European stock immigrants. I’m talking about Latinos and people of color, immigrants from Latin America. You all have them around you. You are all experts.
Where are we? You see us but somehow you don’t feel us. Why is that? We’re all around you. I go to the hotel where we’re staying, and I start speaking Spanish. And every person on the desk speaks Spanish. Some are white some are brown, some are black – they all speak Spanish. You see them in the hospitals. They’re cleaning up the hospitals. They’re cleaning up your house. They’re fixing your cars, taking care of your children. We’re all around you. We’re all experts.
What does it really mean to be a Latino immigrant or Latino immigrants? To work for very low wages, to be exploited, to be fearful of maybe you’re doing something wrong. Particularly if we don’t know the language. This is violence but it’s violence against each one of you too, because as women we all suffer that violence of [having things] imposed things upon us and of being identified as not being white. All of this immigrant population around you and around me where I live and I’m one of them.
People often ask me where I live, “I know what house you’re going to go and work in today. May I give you a ride?” It’s just the idea that we are not one and it’s very unfortunate…I have to tell you about California. California has no majority population. The majority population in California is made up of all the people of color. That’s the majority of the population of California. And that is the face of the United States in the future, if the United States is going to survive.
I believe the proof of what I am telling you is all of a sudden, although you never see us, what happened between February and May of this year? My goodness – all those people we don’t see around us who were invisible became visible. What was the reaction? We’re being invaded by all these undocumented; all of these people that don’t belong here. And we get the backlash immediately in California and in Arizona and Texas, who’s mobilized the KKK and the Minutemen. What do they do to us?
I have here with me someone, we got up and we [went] to the border at 4:00 in the morning because we felt when the Minutemen came that we needed to be there to make sure that they didn’t treat the women, the children, the other people coming across – because they were armed with the authority to do whatever they wanted with the people that were crossing.
Why do people cross? Well, yes, they do believe in the American dream. But let’s face it the United States passed NAFTA. What happened is that all the multinational corporations came to Mexico. They took over the land. They opened horrendous things in Mexico, and they hired Mexican labor. We are giving them Mexican wages or the same protection under the law that they had under the Mexican government. And those are the people that represent us.
The people in the fields cannot compete with the multinational corporations in trying to make their farmers productive. We can no longer cultivate the rice farm owned by three women….Three women that survived a hundred years of hanging onto this ranch and today they cannot do it. They work the land, [but] they can’t do it because whenever they bring their crops to the market or the crops are ready to be picked up, hauling onions to the United States, sending tomatoes or fruit – they sell it at cheaper prices than what it cost them to produce.
So, what’s happened with the Mexican land? They can’t cultivate it. We are creating the conditions of impoverishment or exploitation and the condition. No jobs. So, what happens? More people come [to the U.S.]. All those people around us, all of you experts on immigration. You know we’re not criminals. What do you see us do? We do our work. We go home. We’re fairly expressive. I think we’re very loving.
What is this fact? That we cannot see us in the future as people that all come together, that mix with each other, that love each other. And I need to say something here. We have a white population. We have a black population. But the majority of the population in the world is people of color. So, we are all going to be mixed at some point in time.
And as one of my grandfathers wrote over a hundred years ago, he said, “When we’re all mixed and when we’re all working together, we’re all going to be working towards a humankind. We’re all going to be working towards peace.” And the women’s movement cannot survive unless we really fight for peace. We fight for all of these immigrants that they get a living wage, that they have health, that they get all of the things in the American dream that we expect all the other immigrants to get because that’s all they want. That’s all we want.