By Yesenia Padilla
Greisa Martinez Rosas, the keynote speaker of the 31st annual All Peoples Celebration, is a woman who needs no introduction. She is a strong, thoughtful leader, poetic in her speech, and wise beyond her years. Alliance San Diego was able to sit down with Greisa for a quick Q&A, and hear Greisa’s thoughts on her work, her experiences as an undocumented woman and youth organizer and the ways the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., help her grow in her work.
Read our interview with Greisa below, and to see Greisa speak, make sure to purchase your tickets to the All Peoples Celebration which will be held on January 21st, 2019!
Tell us about your work with United We Dream.
I serve as the deputy executive director for United We Dream, and as part of my role I help to develop our political strategy. One of my favorite things about my work with United We Dream is being able to bear witness to the transformation of young people, and ensure that we are building power together. I do that through grassroots organizing, injecting who we are and our stories into everything that we do, and ensuring that those people closest to the pain are the ones closest to developing the strategy.
In what ways do you find Dr. King’s teachings in your work?
There are three ways that come to mind when I think about the ways Dr. King’s teachings have influenced me and my work:
The first is that Dr. King carried a standard of non-violent intervention and organizing. At United We Dream--and in my own personal life--I’ve espoused this idea that non-violence is not only a way of being, but a strategic choice. I think about what’s underneath that choice; loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, and vice versa, and ensuring that our message can be heard, and that we are able to advance our goals. There’s a guiding light in taking up this strategy, and this legacy. It started with Gandhi and Dr. King, and ensures that we’re connected to the organizers who came before us.
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The second lesson I’ve learned from Dr. King comes from the idea that the work must be done by people on the ground. One of Dr. King’s most powerful demonstrations was the montgomery bus boycotts. I learned from the boycotts that grassroots and locally-based work is what will help shift movements across the country. Whenever we at United We Dream work to end an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement contract in Houston, or do Get Out the Vote, that work is super locally focused, and and it’s our job to make sure the world sees both the pain and the joy in that local work.
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The final way is the most personal for me. I feel a connection to Dr. King because he was a preacher, and my father was a preacher as well. In my upbringing, and in Dr. King’s work, there existed a deep faith, and the idea that we SHALL overcome, that there is a better tomorrow. We have everything inside of us to create change, and we’re powerful beyond measure. When I hear the speeches Dr. King gave, or learn about how he organized and structured his work, I recognize all of it is tied to his conviction, that is deeper than politics. It is a conviction of faith.
When Dr. King went to Chicago to talk about the importance of affordable housing, he went because of that faith-based conviction, he went because of a call to conscious. I truly believe that God works through all of us. I feel that in my own skin. Like Dr. King, I want to be useful to the broader movement, and that faith we share is my guiding principle on why I show up, and how.
I was able to organize one of the first student walkouts because I am a woman, and because I needed to do something for my family. That moment of taking my mom’s lessons and putting them into action was a moment that changed my life. As a woman you have to work harder than any man, even in social justice spaces. To be a woman of color and an immigrant in this moment is an act of political strength.
All of our stories are marked by remarkable women. And my story would not have been possible without my mother, and without other remarkable women. We as immigrant youth can speak truth to power because of the immigrant women who have come before us. This is our time to continue in their tradition and build these new worlds.
What are your hopes for the future for immigrant youth, and how do you think the dreams of immigrant youth align with the ‘Dream’ Dr. King shared in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech?
My wish for immigrant young people is that we are able to be humble enough to listen to the people that surround us, so that we may be inspired to do what we may think is impossible. I am often reminded of how Dr. king needed to listen to the people around him, and be inspired. Dr. King needed to be prepared to the March on Washington and face danger. He was a young Black Southern man, and he came to speak truths at a time that was so necessary for them to be spoken.
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I hope the next generation of organizers listen deeply and intently, are disciplined to show up when they are called, and show up courageously. Also, I want to remind people that I don’t do this work by myself. I’m the representation of millions of undocumented people in this country and the millions of women fighting for racial justice. Dr. King didn’t work alone, and neither should we. We need millions of future leaders to step up.
In what ways do you think people can live the the teachings of Dr. King, and honor his legacy in their everyday lives?
One of the stories that sticks with me about Dr. King and his leadership is that, even though he was in the middle of his own civil rights campaigns, he still took the time to correspond with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. The lesson I think we can all take from is that it’s our job to understand that we are not islands. Our liberation is truly bound to one another. We can live Dr. King’s teachings every day by reminding ourselves that we are not alone, and living our responsibility to make sure others in our communities don’t feel alone.
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Another more practical lesson is to be as disciplined as Dr. King in our development and studies. Dr. King was a lifelong student. He spent time and had discipline in writing and being able to grasp ideas of people around him. We have to give ourselves the gift of thinking critically, writing and dreaming.
Our opposition would have us exhaust ourselves, and work ourselves to the bone and not spend time thinking or developing ourselves. In taking the time and discipline to develop and grow we feed the skills and words that want to burst out of our hearts. It’s not selfish to be really clear about what your purpose is and what gifts you bring to the work. It’s critical to be disciplined about building those skills because they are in service of something bigger than yourself.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Something I’ve been thinking about a lot about lately is that in order for us to win, we are going to have to embrace that we are beautiful and powerful beyond measure. That together we are worthy of being able to live the life of dignity that comes with the changes we are fighting for. To that end, I’d like to share a call to love: to love one another and to love ourselves, as the driving force for our work within the movement.
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