Member Spotlight on Teresa Vivar, Founder and Director of Lazos America Unida

Image of Teresa with long light blue dyed hair in and outdoor setting. She has a long white dress on with red traditional Mexican embroidery. She is leaning bench smiling looking straight ahead with art work of Frida Khalo face behind her. There are tree in the background and wooden planked floor where she is standing barefoot.

"As an Indigenous woman, I believe that we need to learn from the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. We must learn from their bravery and their creativity in keeping their traditions alive, despite colonization. We need to learn how to find ways to collaborate because we came from the roots of resilient people with a very strong mindset..." Teresa Vivar, Founder and Director of Lazos America Unida

Teresa on the importance of achieving immigrants’ rights policies at the state level…

For many sectors, essential workers are immigrant workers. We see immigrants as just newcomers that come and do certain jobs in most areas. In reality, we have to see immigrants as a whole, as human beings that deserve health insurance, workers’ compensation, respect, laws that protect their rights as a woman, as a man protected from harassment, discrimination, and exclusion as any other worker. 

Teresa on what she most looks forward to as a new member of the Alliance...

Patience and guidance. Patience because each organization is going through a transition of development. Nonprofits like Lazos depend on a volunteer and immigrant base and do not have the necessary funding.t.

Organizations like Lazos, provide certain services based on immigrant needs, not necessarily on what white people expect from us as non-profits. They have already established their own line. Lazos and many others are based on what the community really needs in terms of culture and art process- which is something nobody will know unless we support it because we come from these states, these countries, these cultures.  A lot of work, personal work- volunteer in order for these organizations to exist. It is a huge challenge. Compared with other organizations, the risk level to exist, persist, and survive supporting community members. 

Guidance in helping us find students, volunteers, more people to help us, to approach us, and see us. So, we ask the Alliance to be more aware that not all organizations are on the same level of sustainability, or internal development and that organizations like Lazos and many others that exist and continue helping are learning through the process of serving and the feedback we receive from our clients.

Teresa on her upbringing..

I was born in the 1970’s in Oaxaca, Mexico. The state of Oaxaca is very diverse in terms of its indigenous population. I grew up in a mixed household where my mother was indigenous and my father was white-mixed. I am the firstborn in my family. My father called me Alejandro until I was eleven years old because usually the first born is a boy, so I took the role. I grew up with the mindset that I was a woman that could do anything I wanted to, pursue my dreams, and work hard to achieve my goals. I went to theology school until I was 18 years old. I was the only woman of my generation that went to theology school as a man. I grew up perceived as a man with a woman's body in a very “machista” and catholic society. 

I grew up in a very difficult society that judged me. I worked with my father in construction, which is a job that women were not allowed to do in those years. Women now work a lot more in construction than back then. So, in reality, all of my life, I went against the river per se. It has become part of my life to always receive criticism, but I do not give up, I do not care about what people think of me. My father taught me to be proud of myself. He encouraged me to learn more. 

Teresa on how she got involved in organizing...

When I came to New Jersey, I was 18 years old. I came with the mindset of going to school to study. I thought I was coming to a country more advanced in terms of what you read in the books and see on the news that women have more support and rights, and education being important. I thought it was going to be easy for me, but it was totally different. I was a Brown woman who did not speak English very well. 

As I continued to see problems in the community, I started organizing Mexicans. In 1996, I became a parent. That’s when I started becoming involved with the first parent consult in a childcare center in New Brunswick. I became an active member. I realized that they did not have bilingual classes- they were creating discrimination and exclusion. Later, when I saw this girl yelling at her mother blaming her for the bullying she suffered from. She said, “I hate you for being my mother and speaking only Spanish.” Hearing her say that made me think, I do not want to see my daughter saying stuff like that to me. I decided to make a change, and I started going to those meetings, organizing parents. I became an organizer.

Lazos was born in 2003, which focused on understanding the importance of being bilingual, bicultural, and asking for guidance. We started making partnerships with organizations that were necessary for us migrants. Lazos, without even thinking about it, without having a choice, we focus on bi-national initiatives as well as culture and art programs to gain representation in the state. We fight for representation. 

Connect with Lazos America Unida

Teresa on what initiatives Lazos is currently leading on... 

We have cultural events, where we bring teachers of folk dance and folk music to the United States to provide knowledge to Mexican youth. We want our children to feel proud of who they are and where they come from. Lazos is proud to work with the youth. We often ask ourselves, what are we teaching the next generation? We have summer classes and dance classes. Right now, we are working with college students to create a curriculum on Mexican traditions, so teachers can educate the youth about their Mexican traditions. We look forward to working with teachers and organizations to help provide these classes. 

We also offer immigration services. We assist people in filling out their DACA applications.  We create a network with legal service providers, and work in various coalitions with different organizations to provide support to migrants and their families. Immigration should not be seen as a crime, but as something natural. It is what human beings have long been doing for generations before white people came to the continent. Someday, somebody in the next generation will change that- at least for now, we will start doing it. We won’t let them erase our culture. 

We are not less, on the contrary, our diversity is what makes us stronger. We are the future of this country. The immigrant community is the biggest population in the U.S. - if we are not ready, if we do not work together, the future will be very difficult for us. We need to use our experiences to be the voice of all of us. The youth need to learn that we depend on each other. Let’s do the mapping to see who you can work with to prepare the immigrant community for what is coming. Instead of fighting each other for our differences, let’s collaborate and work together to help others. 

Teresa on the importance of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples… 

As an Indigenous woman, I believe that we need to learn from the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. We must learn from their bravery and their creativity in keeping their traditions alive, despite colonization. We need to learn how to find ways to collaborate because we came from the roots of resilient people with a very strong mindset. Traveling to Mexico, and learning from these indigenous roots, I learned I was right to continue collaborating with Mexico, and keeping bi-national relations, having conferences where we talk with migrants, with indigenous-Mexican communities. We support the existence and the development of these indigenous communities as they are very important for the future, so we never lose our identity. At Lazos, we continue to work on that. 

Support Lazos America Unida's work