Member Spotlight on Helen Zamora-Bustos, Organizer with Wind of the Spirit

“Black Latinos are only depicted in sports, but we are more than just athletes. We are activists, authors, actors/actresses, teachers, inventors. More light needs to be shed on Black Latinos and what we have contributed to Latin America and the world.”

Helen Zamora-Bustos,

Community Organizer, Wind of the Spirit

Helen's journey as an immigrant in the United States...

I am an immigrant, but my journey has not been as difficult in comparison to others. When I came to the United States, I was a resident and soon after became a citizen. I never had to question whether I was going to college. It was more of a question of where I was going to go to college. It was never questioned whether I would be able to drive to school and work, because it was a given that I would get a driver’s license by a certain age. I never had to question things like that because of my citizenship status. Yet, I had classmates and family members who faced obstacles with going to college, getting a driver’s license and so much more. I know someone whose dream it was to be a nurse, and because she was undocumented, her tuition rates at her local community college were that of an out-of-state student. She could have gone to a top university with her GPA, but the policies in this country set up barriers against her because of her citizenship status. She went to school for the first few years taking a couple of classes each semester. This is someone who I care very dearly for, and who is absolutely brilliant. Why was it so difficult for her to achieve her dreams? 

Helen reflects on loss and racism...

My identity has always been front and center. First being Black, then being a woman, and then when I arrived in the United States, as Hispanic. In 2020, the death of George Floyd was very hard for me. But the loss that impacted me the most was the murder of Elijah McClain. This young Black man was a talented musician that would go to animal shelters and play the violin for animals. Here was this young man, with an amazing talent, and a big heart, doing something that most people would never do. He had a talent and chose to share it with the world in order to bring some joy. He was then murdered by police officers who were taught to fear Black people, who were taught to shoot first, ask questions later, and never fear the consequence of being punished. To be honest, last year I got involved like I never had before.

During 2020, it seemed that everyone felt qualified to talk about race and racism. I had a conversation with someone I thought I knew very well. This person said some very hurtful things about Black people, going on to say that racism was not a real thing but rather a mental obstacle Black people had to get over. I have not been able to connect with this person in the same way ever since, I still love them very much, but it hurts to know that their prejudice runs so deep. This politicized me because I realized that people were always going to question my existence.

Helen’s thoughts on Latinx Heritage Month...

It’s great that there is a month to celebrate Latinx heritage. This month is useful and necessary when the Latinx community continues to grow. But more light needs to be shed on our differences rather than our similarities. The Latinx community is not a “one-size-fits-all” kind of community. There continues to be a blatant denial of the existence of Black Latinos, which is attributed to the extreme racism there is in Latin America. In the media, you do not see us. Black Latinos are only depicted in sports, but we are more than just athletes. We are activists, authors, actors/actresses, teachers, inventors. More light needs to be shed on Black Latinos and what we have contributed to Latin America and the world. Latinx Heritage month needs to be expanded to include Black Latinos, as well as indigenous communities. Latino America is not just White Latinos.

Helen describes her community...

We have this word in Colombia, verraca/o. This one word means determined, stubborn, and hard working. That is how I would describe my community. It is stubborn because something may seem difficult, but my people will continue to push. My people are hardworking. No one is expecting anything to just be handed to them. My community is determined because even when they cease to fight for themselves, they continue to fight for others. If they can’t see change in their lifetime, they will make sure that the next generation has everything they didn’t. My community is a bunch of verracos.

Helen on becoming an organizer...

Do you remember back in high school how they would make you take an aptitude test to determine what career would be right for you? As hard as I try to remember the list of occupations I was supposedly good at, organizing was not on that list. There’s other professions that are very well known, but you just don’t hear about organizing. But in order to address the injustices of the world, there has to be a few people who dedicate themselves to the hard work of organizing. One of the first examples of an organizer I have is Moses, who got his people across the Nile. They all had something in common, they were all oppressed and they all wanted freedom. It took organizing to bring them together. Granted, there was some divine intervention there, too. 

Helen describes her favorite part of organizing...

I love doing the work of public education. Being with the community and learning from one another is beautiful. During my time with Wind of the Spirit, I have come to learn so much about the world. I have had the opportunity to learn things I didn’t know before, and understand things more deeply. A lot of that knowledge has been shared with me by other organizers and the community members we work with. The opportunity to then share that knowledge with others, is something I hold dearly. 

With public education, we break things down so that everybody can understand any concept, regardless of their years of formal education. While I like teaching, I really love the exchange of information amongst people. We learn more together. For example, when I lead a forum, and someone begins to share their experiences, I learn more through that person’s story than I ever would have read off a presentation. I look up to our founder and organizer herself, Diana Mejia. She is a wealth of knowledge because she has had so many experiences, and has also learned from the people around her. Anytime I sit down with Diana, even if it's just a 5-10 minute conversation, I always walk away knowing more than I did before, she places great value in popular education. 

By community members being witnesses to what organizers do, they see that if we all work together, we can change our lives. Hopefully, this also inspires the next generation of organizers to blossom, too. By the next generation, I don’t just mean youth, but just anyone who wants to create change. I became an organizer at 35, but someone can come into this work at 45!

Helen shares books that are meaningful to her...

The books that are very important to me are Of Love and Other Demons and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez. I first read these books in Spanish back in Colombia. When I moved to the U.S at 14, I found these books in the library, but in English. I still remember the joy I felt when I found those books. Reading books in English that I had already read in Spanish helped me learn the English language better and quickly.   

Helen on what she is passionate about outside of work...

I love writing short stories. I don’t have much time lately, but I do love writing. I have been writing short stories since I was very young.

New Year, New Team, New Session | Same Fight for Justice

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January Newsletter

Archived 2017 picture of NJAIJ rally against the Muslim Ban.

Friends, I'm writing with a personal message this month.
January marks one year since I joined NJAIJ and one year since we grew our team to include our Movement Building Coordinator, a role that has transformed how we empower immigrant communities all across the New Jersey. In my twelve months in coalition with you, I feel both grateful and galvanized.
In that year, New Jersey also
became the first state on the East Coast to ban ICE detention agreements. We became the 15th state to enact a status-neutral drivers' license program, and fought for a first-of-its-kind direct cash benefit program, the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund, to provide relief for households excluded from federal stimulus. We made history together, and I'm humbled by and in awe of your fight.
It's January again and we are pleased to announce that we are growing our team again, too!
I am thrilled to be joined in this work by advocates who have an unwavering dedication to social, racial, and economic justice. Please join me in welcoming:

Michelle Ancil, she/her, Communications Coordinator. Laura Bustamante, she/her, Policy & Campaigns Manager. Aidee Pascual, she/her, Administrative Assistant. Kat Phan, she/her, 2022 Intern.

Click to read more about our team.

January is a time of renewal and reflection.
This month, we highlight Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director of the New Jersey chapter of Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ). CAIR-NJ is at the fore of the fight to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation month. Selaedin reminds us about the importance of reflecting on the legacies and movements that came before us and celebrating the richness of our diversity.

In Solidarity and Community,
Amy Torres

 

Member Spotlight

 It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing," says Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

 
A header image with the words

THE VALUES ACT IS HERE!

The Values Act was re-introduced in the Assembly and Senate as A1986/S512. The Values Act would provide critical protections that allow New Jerseyans to seek support from state and local agencies without fear of deportation. Tell your legislator you expect to see their support!

 

NILC Features NJ's Anti-Detention Law

National Immigration Law Center

The incredible campaign behind the bill that banned new ICE detention agreements, renewals, and expansions was featured in the National Immigration Law Center's annual report on Winning in the States.

The report celebrates New Jersey's win by acknowledging the many fronts of the battle: "The anti-detention fight in New Jersey has been a decades-long movement...but with closure announcements and the ban on new and renewed contracts, New Jersey will not have any ICE detention centers after 2023."
 

Excluded NJ Fund Falls Short

In the midst of the news that major parts of the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund had been diverted and then quickly restored, New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report.

NJPP's analysis finds, "[e]ven if the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund were kept at its original funding level, it does not match the aid provided to others facing financial hardship due to COVID-19." The report goes on to say, "not only do payments...fall far short of the cost of living in New Jersey, but the size of the fund is also too small to reach all excluded workers."
 

Fair Legislative Districts

Legislative redistricting is still underway but time is running out! Your voice is needed to make sure maps are fair, racially just, and representative of your community. 

NJAIJ is a proud member of the Fair Districts coalition. 
Research shows that public testimony at redistricting hearings is effective when it offers specific instructions to mapmakers, focuses on small-scale changes (like keeping a neighborhood together), and effectively defines a community and its needs for representation. You are the expert on your community. Get involved!
 

Ready to act? Spread the word:

New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice


P.O. Box, 200492,  | Newark, New Jersey  07102| [email protected]

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