Ruthie Arroyo, Community Organizer with Migrante-New Jersey

Ruthie Arroyo (right) celebrating the release of a community member from Elizabeth Detention Center (left).

 Ruthie Shares, “I asked myself, why am I here? and who am I as a Filipino woman in Jersey City?... I realized there were socio-political and economic factors that force migration. From there, it moved beyond ‘this is my story’ to ‘this is my people’s story’.”

Ruthie on Migrante New Jersey becoming a member of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ)... 

Migrante New Jersey, and other organizations that are part of the National Democratic Movement, have worked with the NJAIJ for quite a while. We’re a very new member of NJAIJ, but we’ve known of the coalition’s great work throughout the years, especially for the immigrant community. We became a member officially because we were also chosen by NJAIJ to receive a grant to help us build capacity as a grassroots movement. Because of that, we became a little bit closer to NJAIJ. Actually, it was kind of mind-blowing for us because we had never received a grant. We’re super, super grateful for that. 

Ruthie on Migrante NJ’s recent wins/successes… 

Before, we were called Filipino Immigrant Workers Organizing Project, and then launched officially as Migrante NJ in 2017. Once we devoted a little bit more time to regularizing our meetings, people saw that being part of Migrante as a commitment to the immigrant rights movement. It’s not just a hobby. When we engage in these meetings and we talk about issues and how to solve them, it becomes people's lives. If we as an organization are silent or choose not to fight or show up at the table, it affects people’s livelihoods, their safety, and protection. I think that was a big success for us: to show the Filipino community and Jersey City community that we’re out here fighting and that they’re not alone.

Ruthie on Migrante NJ’s current priorities… 

There are three main things we’re working on.

  1. The first one is building a workers movement in Jersey City. To make sure workers know their rights, we have been doing health and safety training to the Filipino and non-Filipino community as part of our campaign for Kalusugan, Kabuhayan, at Karapatan (Health, Livelihood, and Workers Rights). 
  2. The second one is that we recognize that Filipinos are here because they have been forced to leave our country. The Philippine government's policies and economic decisions still impact Filipinos that are outside the Philippines. The Philippine government is really a fasict dictatorship that has committed so many atrocities and negligence. One of the biggest campaigns here in the U.S. is the Philippine Human Rights Act, or the PHRA, [which cuts] US aid to the Philippines. The military aid is part of the budget that the government uses to kill people in the Philippines. They started a drug war, and now it has transformed into not just an all-out war against alleged drug-users but against poor people in general, including activists. It’s tax season right now in the U.S.  and the taxes people are paying here--whether you're a migrant or not--are getting sent to the Philippines. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars is being used to kill people in the Philippines. Our campaign is to educate people about what they can do and build a mass movement in the US for human rights in the Philippines.
  3. The third thing is to ensure that we’re building with others through various campaigns. For example, we know about the horrors of detention centers. So many people are incarcerated, and the conditions there are terrible. We know that it’s all part of this state--the fascist state trying to oppress not just Filipino people but also Black people, other migrant communities, poor people that are getting repressed. Solidarity is an important aspect for us as an anti-imperialist organization.

Ruthie on her favorite part of what she does… 

My favorite part is getting to build with people. Getting to know people of different backgrounds. It gives me that hope to keep going, to learn about people’s stories and why they show up. Getting to know them and what motivated them to continue to serve the people. It’s a humbling thing to learn people’s stories and see their humanity.

Ruthie on her moment of politicization… 

There are many moments, but I would say when I started to process why we came here to begin with. Why did we have to leave the Philippines? I was grieving the loss of the life that I knew. Having to learn the American way of life was hard. I asked myself, why am I here? and who am I as a Filipino woman in Jersey City? While in college, I met some powerful people that were gentle with me while I navigated these questions. They showed me that these questions are worth investigating in order to heal. I had to heal and come to terms with my parents’ decision to leave the Philippines. When I tried to make sense of my existence, and also engaged in political education with Anakbayan, I realized that my parents were just trying to do the best they could. There were also socio-political and economic factors that forced their migration. From there, it moved beyond “this is my story” to “this is my people’s story”. The only answer to all my questions was to dismantle the system that had placed me in Jersey City and forced my family out of the Philippines, just as other people who had to leave their homeland.

Ruthie on what Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month means to her…

AAPI month is a good tool to talk about AAPI history and heritage - but it’s also a challenge. Why is it only limited to one month? The people and struggles remain and must be recognized beyond this month. We must continue to deepen our understanding and links to our communities, while also dismantling our commitment to our value being held to a single month. AAPI month means we have to do more to make sure that we are struggling for AAPI liberation, everyday.

What is one thing you wish social justice advocates considered more in their social justice work? 

The perspective of the working class has to change. They know so much and they are the ones that have so much power to claim justice. The majority of this country, and of the world, are part of the working class. If we organize alongside them, they can create a whole new system and justice would prevail. Justice would be claimed. But this often overlooked because the dominant culture tells us that people with degrees and wealth are more valuable than others. People in this country are sold that the neoliberal education is what you need to attain. If you don’t have that, you are worth nothing to this system. But really, the people that create the value of the world and worth more than anything else, are the working class. That’s why its important to ask, who is not here? Oftentimes, its only professionals at the table making decisions for community members. But justice won’t be claimed with a professional speaking for the people. 

Ruthie on the world she wants to live in...

I want to live in a world where everyone is valued. Everyone is fed. Everyone has the resources they need and want. A world where no one would worry about rent or how to put food on the table. I want to live in a world where people don’t have to choose between happiness and survival. For Filipinos, we are often pushed to take on a profession that would give more financial stability, instead of art, music or anything we actually want to do. I want to live in a world where people’s rights are respected. A world where Indigenous people have reclaimed their native land and their heritage. That would be a pretty cool world to live in. These are very basic things, but not for the world we currently live in. 

Ruthie on the last book she read…

The last book I read titled Black Lives & Brown Freedom: Untold Histories of War, Solidarity, & Genocide by Kirby Araullo. He is a Filipino writer based in California. He writes about the Phillipine-American War, which is very rarely talked about. It was one of the first wars that made the United States an imperial power. The war started in 1899, and while it is documented to have ended a few years later, it actually raged on for decades. From this book, I learned about my own history, and also the links between American imperialism and the Black struggle for liberation. I learned how interconnected our histories and struggles are because of American greed for money, power and the subjugation of people. It was an important book for me to refresh my understanding that the liberation of the Filipino people is, and will always be connected to, the liberation of Black and Indigenous people. Solidarity is the only way that we can take down this imperialist beast.

Ruthie on what makes her happy these days...

I love animals and recently, I’ve come to like birds. It's the first time I’ve been interested in them. In the morning, I hear them chirping outside my window. I was surprised to see three different types of birds in my backyard! I’m really curious to find out what kind of they are.