Colton woman working to organize migrant workers, Latinos

Photo/Anthony Victoria: Rosa Martha Zarate Macias, defender of Braceros and immigrants.

Rosa Marta Zarate Macias holds a special place in her heart for immigrants, particularly those that contribute to the U.S. labor force and endure exploitation.

“It only makes sense for me to fight for my people,” the former nun said.

The Colton resident serves as a spokeswoman for the Alianza de Ex-braceros del Norte, a multinational organization that continues to demand the Mexican government to provide payment to braceros for their agricultural work during and shortly after World War II.

Zarate’s planning several local meetings to meet with local braceros in the Coachella Valley and the Inland Empire.

Approximately 48,000 former braceros have yet to receive any sort of compensation from President Enrique Pena Nieto and his administration, Zarate said. She’s travelled to Mexico City and Washington D.C. in hopes of organizing more Braceros.

An estimated 4.6 million braceros worked in the United States from 1942 to 1965, according to several Mexican historians. These workers, who faced both discrimination and harsh living conditions while in the U.S., were promised compensation by the Mexican government.

Zarate connects past migrant struggles of exploitation, abuse, and poverty to present day concerns over U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

“For [Trump] we’re only viable as money makers, not people,” she said. “But we can do so much better than that.”

In response to what she describes as a socioeconomic system that handicaps spiritual growth, Zarate also helped found Calpulli. The organization, which bases its work on Liberation Theology, strives to establish learning centers that assist residents to be self-sustaining through the creation of community gardens, small businesses, and vocational training.

The message Zarate conveys is one of resilience–a message she admits could come with sacrifices, but may come with unity

“There’s an urgency to organize,” Zarate said. “We need to be side to side with the young people who are striving to keep our people together. I believe the most important thing we could at this moment of time is work together to sustain our communities.”