“I never thought I’d be an E.D. of anything,” said Maritza Maldonado, executive director of the social services nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe, serving Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in East San Jose. However, the former teacher, herself the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, felt called to serve the Spanish-speaking immigrants in the impoverished neighborhood.
“Apartheid is alive and well in East San Jose in the Mayfair community,” said Maldonado, speaking in February as part of a series on refugee issues held at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church. “I founded Amigos de Guadalupe to try and even out the playing field for immigrants. I felt this was my calling. That God was calling me to do this.”
Maldonado learned about advocacy from a pro. Her family lived down the street in San Jose from the late Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993), the iconic Mexican American civil rights activist whose birthday March 31 is a California state holiday. Through his example, she learned about advocacy for field workers and nonviolent resistance.
“Chavez was a fixture in our community,” said Maldonado. “The first time I heard about the dangers of DDT for farm workers and the short-handled, back-breaking hand hoe was from him.”
Amigos de Guadalupe is a center for justice and empowerment and offers assistance with education, basic needs such as housing, immigration and health. It distributes food to families on Saturdays and sponsors after-school programs for children and a summer camp.
“Gangs are alive and well and waiting to recruit our kids,” said Maldonado. “We need mentors for children.”
Mexican-born teenager Jessica Lopez, who arrived in the U.S. illegally when she was two, is a volunteer mentor. An undocumented high school junior with a 4.2 GPA, she has a work permit and wants to go to college.
“I’m living in constant fear of being deported back to Mexico,” said Lopez.
Although the federal DREAM Act was never passed, the California Dream Act, passed in 2011, gives undocumented students access to certain college scholarships.
“The most important thing you want people to know is that we DREAMers are just like anyone else, and we deserve the chance to go to college,” said Lopez. “This is the country I grew up in. It’s the only country I know.”
“Our advocacy is keeping families together,” said Maldonado. “We’re hoping for the best but preparing families for the worst.”
Families are encouraged to assemble kits containing copies of their legal documents, including whom to leave their children with in case they are separated.
“It’s crazy that you have to think like this in this country,” said Maldonado. “Our families supply the backbone to support the high-tech community. They work in service industries. They’re Google bus drivers, restaurant and hotel workers. They’re probably the most resilient families you have ever seen. They are phenomenal entrepreneurs.”
“Part of our work is about trying to get our young people off to college. Our staff is made up of scholarship recipients,” continued Maldonado, whose husband, Dr. Stanley Rose, is superintendent of the Santa Clara Unified School District.
“This young lady, Jessica, is our future. If we invest in young people like her now, they will be the next generation of leaders,” said Maldonado. “I feel very confident when I think of people like Jessica. It’s time to reflect. Who are we and what are we going to do?”
For further information about Amigos de Guadalupe, launched in 2014, visit its website (www.amigoscenter.com) or call (408) 509-0848. They’re hosting an open house on April 2, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., 1897 Alum Rock Ave., Suite 35, San Jose.