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Eugene Weekly : Que Pasa : 3.31.11

International Womens Day

Qué vivan las mujeres!

By Guadalupe Quinn

This year marked the 100th anniversary of International Womens Day. Around the worldhundreds of events were held in celebration of this day. Although March 8 was International Womens Day many activities took place throughout the month ofMarch. Themes each year try toreflect global and local issues affecting women.

This year I participated in one of those many celebrations as part of theCenter for the Study of Women in Society symposium "Womens Activism, Womens Rights” at the UO. As one of the panelist I spoke on "Immigrant Women Workers in Oregon.”

Well, I dont know nor can I speak for every immigrant woman worker in Oregon, but as I began to think about what I would say and I began to gather information and read about the situations that immigrant women face in the workplace. I was saddened but not surprised to see that many immigrant women workers today are still facing many of the same situations and conditions that my mother faced back in the late 1950s and into the 60s and on.

My mother spent almost 20 years working in a "sweatshop” in Californiawhere you would freeze in the winter and cook in the summer. No windows or ventilation. Every day the women would walkout of that shop looking like they had just been snowed on because the lint was flying all over the place while they worked. My mother worked as a "joiner,” someone who would put the garment together, and for that she got paid 12 cents for every garment she sewed.

There were no health benefits, no retirement plan, no vacation or sick leave. There was not even a break room. Everyone ate their lunch at their sewing machines or standing outside. She worked long hours and often was told toclock out and get back to work until 7 or 8 in the evening. I recall many times my mother bringing bundles of garments home to take apart because the boss didnt want her or the other women wasting time doing it at the shop. I know she never got paid for that.

I too worked at the shop with my mom and sisters inthe summers so we could earn money for school clothes and also to help my parents with a few bills. It wasnt much but every little bit helped. My moms favorite line during those days was: "Please do well in school, get an education Ä I dont want you to end up here too.” Of course she said this in Spanish. My mom never learned English. All the women she worked with were Mexicanas and they all spoke Spanish ã except the owner and theboss (two white guys).

International Womens Day happens once a year but we need to remember that women around the world continue in big and small ways to contribute to their countries and communities, this includes immigrant women in the U.S. and in Oregon.

They also continue to face the same barriers that women before them have faced: working conditions that are unsafe, exploitation of their labor, low wages and wage theft, no benefits, racism, sexism, classism and situations that should not exist in 2011.

Did you know that farm workers, many who are women, contribute to Oregons $4 billion agriculture industry? Immigrant women workers are childcare providers, elder and home health care providers, domestic workers, service industry workers, farm workers, factory and processing plant workers, just to name a few.

Every day, Americans are benefiting from the hard work that these immigrant women are doing but dont give much thought to what is happening to them in those workplaces and what kind of conditions many of them are still working in.

International Womens Day has been celebrating women around the world for 100 years, fighting for the rights of women, shining a light on the struggles and treatment that women still face in their countries and communities, but also sharing stories of great courage and determination. Women are survivors and will continue to be that great force that will create a better and just world for all of us.

Qué Pasa is a monthly column featuring the opinions of Lane Countys Hispanic community. Guadalupe Quinn heads the Immigrant Rights Advocacy Program with Amigos Multicultural Services Center.