“You HAVE to have events like that and intentional spaces for people to get together and get to know each other in order to destroy those assumptions that really do keep us divided.”
Dominique Aulisio tells the stories of different campaigns and projects that the Orlando Youth and Young Adults (YAYA) of NFWM have undertaken, including a bicycle project they developed with the farmworker organization Alianza de Mujeres Activas and the impact it had on both students and the workers involved.
Dominique Aulisio: Okay, I will talk about our first bicycle delivery. That was probably a year later. So up until that point, we had been, the first thing that we were working on after the CIW march was in, I think, November, and we were working on a petition to have the EPA ban methyl iodide. That was really exciting because it was a wonderful outreach opportunity. So Lariza and I, I went with her to St. Augustine to reach out to people there, and we had other students getting petitions signed. So that was, like, a great opportunity to outreach and do something that was just so simple and clear-cut that we were and are still using this incredibly dangerous chemical that is so harmful to everyone who eats food and to the farm workers. So that was a project that was great because we had really clear goals and it was just so simple for people to understand and get involved in.
So the bicycle delivery I wanted to tell you about, I think it probably was a year later once we had a YAYA chapter going. The bicycle project is where we find or we have people donate bicycles. Many of them need to be repaired, so we have volunteers repair the bicycles. It’s a great way to recycle the bikes that otherwise would probably end up in a landfill, and we also love it when people give bikes that are in working condition. That’s very nice also. And then we talk with a local farm worker organization who can identify people in the community who really need a bicycle, and we make a community event out of it. And we’ve now donated over 250 bicycles, maybe more than that, and we’ve held a lot of these community, usually we share a meal and have a community conversation, and then we distribute the bikes. So the first one was with the Alianza de Mujeres Activas, in Seville, which in English is the Active Women’s Alliance, and we call them AMA for short, and it was very exciting because they have a really strong community. All of their meetings took place at the house of Ana Laura, who is the president of the organization, in the pavilion that the community had built next to her house, and if I remember right, it was a potluck and we all brought food. They probably made food also, though, and it was so exciting for them to invite us into their community.
It was a really special experience. We brought a group of students from Orlando, and Seville is a little teeny, tiny rural community that’s pretty isolated. To them, I remember Ana Laura was saying, like, you know, Orlando feels like another world because it’s pretty far, and especially, one of the reasons the bicycles are so necessary is because a lot of the farm workers there and people in the community don’t have driver’s licenses because of their immigration status, or they just simply can’t afford a car, and so they end up walking everywhere. There’s not an accessible grocery store. We heard stories about pregnant women walking to the hospital in Deland, which is, like, miles. It’s, like, 30 minutes driving. It’s far. Walking to the hospital is ridiculous. And, you know, anytime someone, whether it’s taking their kids to the doctor or to get groceries, they would either have to walk or find a ride. So it was a really needed service, but just the experience of sitting down with the ladies, that experience for me was one where I felt like the barrier between communities was really tangible. I think that for the students coming from Orlando, there was definitely, you know, they felt really uncomfortable and out of their element because all of a sudden they were the minority stepping into somebody else’s community as a guest, and they had the opportunity to feel like, “Okay, I don’t know what the cultural norms are here, and I don’t really know anything about these people’s lives, and I don’t know, you know, maybe how I’m supposed to act.”
And I think that all of the assumptions that middle-class students hold about farm workers, that’s what created such a tangible awkwardness, and also the language barrier, of course. But we had really intentional little breakouts, like we had the community discussion together and then we put a translator with small groups of people to make sure that everybody felt the ability to communicate, and one of the main goals was just to hang out and give people the opportunity to say, “Hey, OK, like, this is fun, easy, and farm workers are people just like us, and like to have fun and do the same things that we do,” because the sad reality is that a lot of people don’t understand that. And even though I wanted to understand that, I had to say for myself that, like, I’ve undergone, like a 360-degree transformation since that first event, as far as being able to respect farm workers as people and hang out and understand, we’re all really exactly the same. It’s just, I think, a really sad reality of our society, and you HAVE to have events like that and intentional spaces for people to get together and get to know each other in order to destroy those assumptions that really do keep us divided.
Dominique Aulisio: In the past couple of years, we got really involved in the fight for ag jobs and for immigration reform, and then in the past legislative session of Florida against the Arizona-style anti-immigrant legislation, and through that, we, uh, ended up organizing rallies, some of them co-sponsored with organizations, but some of them rallies that we organized ourselves and we mobilized other organizations in the community to come out, and so I think that engaging with our representatives and working with the farm worker organizations in the area to make those protests happen, doing follow-up work, some of the follow-up lobbying, that was work that was both really crucial and a really wonderful opportunity for people in the chapter to grow as activists and to kind of realize our potential, to realize our power in the community, I guess the power of the community to make noise, get our message out in the media, and show that there is a really viable farm worker and immigrant rights movement in Central Florida. The work that we did and the skills that we carried through from that is a really important part of YAYA.