• Why I Organize: Immigration, Education and Health Care

    Hundreds of members of our 2011 Summer Organizer Program entered an essay competition to win lunch with President Obama this week. Over the coming week, we’ll be publishing the six winning entries.

    Maria Celeste, Florida summer organizer

    American citizenship is more than just a legal marker. It’s also a mind-set, and one that I did not acquire by birthright. Seven years after my birth in Argentina, my parents made the tough decision to move to the United States to be closer to our family. There were always daily reminders of the difficulties of being an immigrant. In Argentina, my father worked as an art professor. Here in the United States he worked in maintenance for different hotels. When I turned 12, my parents went from being legal residents to becoming citizens of the United States. From this moment forward, I was officially considered an American citizen. My parents’ struggles did not end there—they still faced discrimination. Though I never received any mistreatment growing up, watching my parents struggle so much just to be recognized as Americans will always weigh heavily on my mind.

    My parents taught me at a young age that hard work and an education are the keys to life. I gained knowledge and critical thinking skills outside of school and my parents were always there to help. Eventually, I learned a hard lesson—that my classmates were not being given the chances I was. Educational standards were too low. Children were not learning all they could in math, science, or grammar, and minority children had it worse. Only real change could give them a chance to ever see inside college walls.

    That wasn’t the only hard lesson I had to learn. I was told growing up that health care is a right; however, in the U.S. it didn't feel like it was. My dad became ill in 2002. He constantly went to the doctors only to receive no answers, and his HMO kept denying him coverage for certain treatments. In 2004, he died of lung cancer that had gone undetected for years. After years of struggling to explain to doctors how much pain he truly was in, the health care system failed my family. From that moment on I hoped that no other child would become fatherless because of a failing health care system.

    With immigration, education, and health care driving me, I started volunteering for Senator Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. Working towards electing Barack Obama put my life into perspective. I found out that I wanted to study political science, and that I had a passion to organize. I found that being able to mobilize a community behind a common cause creates the energy to win an election, and that I was able to make phone calls to voters in Spanish and help them become part of a movement that could improve their families’ lives. I was able to talk to teachers who kept having to buy their students supplies and who were tired of watching kids struggle to pass standardized tests. I also heard the stories of people who had sick family members who were not being treated. I was able to work alongside people who have lived lives similar to mine, and I could see the hope in their eyes after a great call, canvass, or voter registration drive. I used all the bad experiences in my life to help people better their lives through the civic process, and I was able to feel the pride of being an American and fighting for a great cause.

    The 2008 campaign proved to me that grassroots organizations can change the political system. Now, in 2011, I want to have that feeling again. I want to watch a campaign grow from the start, so I signed up to be part of the 2011 Summer Organizer Program. Now, I am adding to the knowledge I gained from the last campaign. I have seen just how important relationships are, and that these relationships are the only way to grow the campaign from three summer organizers in Gainesville to a growing family of volunteers. I have also learned that the only way I can create a new wave of volunteers for 2012 is by finding my way into these communities so that I can empower them to start organizing. The only way I can help the person who feels like I did in 2008 is by organizing for them.

    If you or someone you know would make a great organizer, apply to our Fall Fellows Program here and be sure to share the link with friends who might be interested.

    This is an edited version of Maria's winning essay.