The negative political climate around immigration policy continues to affect the daily lives of our most vulnerable immigrant population. As we near the close of Immigrant Heritage Month it is critical to continue celebrating our community, the numerous contributions immigrants make to our society, and our resilience and strength to advocate for change.
In California, many young Latino immigrants, like Hugo Romero, a 25-year-old immigrant from Mexico, contribute by being at the forefront of social and economic justice movements.
This is Hugo’s story:
Hugo Romero was born in Toluca, Mexico. Striving for a better quality of life, his family migrated to the United States when he was just a toddler. They settled in Brea, CA, a city in North Orange County. Confronted with limited employment opportunities, Hugo’s father started working in the car wash industry and after more than 20 years he continues to work in the same industry.
Hugo grew up in a largely conservative community. Talking about his experiences as an undocumented immigrant and issues he cared about such as immigrant and labor issues was not something that he felt comfortable or safe doing. But Hugo was fortunate enough to attend Fullerton College where he met other immigrant students and a community that welcomed him and empowered him to speak up. He joined organizations like the Fullerton College Dream Team and the Orange County Dream Team whose pro-immigrant advocacy work has led to numerous pro-immigrant polices like historic Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Executive Action by President Obama on June 15, 2012, which now provides young immigrants a work permit and exception from deportation.
At the same time that Hugo confronted injustices as an immigrant student, he was also vulnerable to worker rights violations. As a car wash worker for five years he witnessed and experienced the prevalence of wage theft and worker rights violations. He wasn’t always paid for all the hours he worked and often was not permitted to take his full breaks. The parent company of the car wash he was employed at was sued for wage theft violations by then Attorney General, Jerry Brown. He was one of the recipients of the settlement that resulted from the lawsuit. A couple years later, Hugo interned at the UCLA Labor Center and found out that the UCLA Labor Center was integral in the battle against the parent company of the car wash he once worked at. Inspired by his own experiences as an immigrant worker he soon found a voice and a home in the labor movement.
Hugo now works as a Project Coordinator for the UCLA Labor Center, where he successfully launched the University of California, Irvine Community & Labor Project, a project dedicated to serving the research and educational needs of labor and community in Orange County. Currently he is working on a project with the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) to provide leadership development trainings to immigrant member leaders. Additionally, he is working on a publication that honors the work of Mike Garcia, former President of SEIU USWW and the Justice for Janitors campaign. Hugo also leads the Labor Cohort of the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Summer Fellowship, a program that places immigrant young leaders in social justice organizations and labor unions for a 10-week period. Through this program, Hugo inspires and trains immigrant youth to be the next generation of labor leaders.
Labor unions and the labor movement have become the core of Hugo’s purpose as a social justice leader.
For Hugo, labor unions continue to be at the forefront of economic justice in America and across the globe. What he values most about the labor movement is the intersectional approach they take in advocating for workers’ rights – from migration and trans employment to wage theft, multi-national trade deals, equal pay, and more. Hugo continues to urge other young Latinos to join forces with the labor movement, “Labor issues transcend the workplace and have a direct effect on Latino communities. Latinos in the labor movement can be a powerful vehicle of change to remedy the issues that plague Latino communities and other communities of color.”
Hugo believes that Latinos and other people of color are the future of the labor movement. But his story is only one of millions of immigrant experiences that make American great. We also want to hear from you—share your or your family’s immigration story on Facebook and Twitter and contribute to the dialogue around Immigrant Heritage Month!