NYRican in LA: Mamita Mala Goes Back to Her Activism Roots

PHOTO: Mamita Mala teaches a social media workshop to members of VozMob in Pico Union, Los Angeles.

It's been a long time since I've considered myself an organizer. In the late 1990's I was actively involved in the struggle against police brutality in New York City, working with the Justice Committee, then part of the National Congress for the Puerto Rican Rights. But then life got in the way. Balancing single mami'hood, including working full time in jobs that gave me no personal satisfaction, left me feeling burned out. So I just stopped. I stopped going to meetings. I stopped attending rallies. I just didn't have it in me anymore.

That doesn't mean that my passion for social justice ended. Just my energy level and stress tolerance. I moved inward, sharing my ideas about the intersection of justice driven work with the daily realities of people. This meant writing blog posts, writing for magazines and newspapers and tweeting my heart out.

I helped other organizations build websites. While I feel online organizing is real, retweeting and commenting on blog posts is not the same as sitting in a room with people planning and executing an action. The vibe is different when you hit submit versus when you successfully end a demonstration. And as much as my casita on the Boyle Heights/City Terrace border is my home now, I wasn't comfortable just jumping into a Los Angeles organizing space.

There is so much I need to learn about the landscape in terms of movements, organizations, and individuals who have been doing activist work for years in L.A. The sprawl of city and county of Los Angeles, as well segregation by race, class, and nationality, makes grassroots organizing a challenge, thanks in no small part to calculated planning decisions that have freeways splitting neighborhoods and a woefully dysfunctional public transit system. While residents in East Los Angeles may have issues with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department similar to issues of residents in South Central, connecting across geography and language is a struggle all by itself.

One of the things that attracted me to my pareja was his own commitment to justice-driven work, and not in his day job at a local non-profit. He spends much of his free time doing legal observation of rallies on behalf of the National Lawyer's guild and organizing within other spaces.

But I didn't want to ride in on his organizing coat tails. I needed to find spaces organically so I rejected his connections at first, opting to find my path on my own terms.

And my own path came. One day, a mutual friend of my pareja and I invited me to head into the Pico Union neighborhood for a meeting of the Popular Communications Team of Voces Moviles/Voz Mob, a group that uses SMS so that day laborers, domestic workers and other immigrant communities can tell their stories via text, images and videos and share them with the world.

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