One of the biggest reasons that I decided to work at MUA is because I felt that it was important to try and make a tangible difference in helping combat wealth, education, and health disparities faced by the Hispanic population in this country. In our current political atmosphere, growing anti-immigrant sentiment has made living in the United States even more of a challenge for ethnic minorities. It is imperative that we take action to ensure that immigrants – especially woman immigrants, who face even more barriers to success – have the resources they need to thrive in the United States.
MUA’s mission is to provide a means for low-income Latina women who have limited education or English language skills to effect social, political, and liberating changes in their families, communities, and in society at large. This goal is no easy task, for various reasons. Poverty presents a significant barrier to success for many Latinas: one in four Latinas live below the poverty line, while more than half live near the poverty line. Furthermore, Latinas make 56 cents for every dollar earned by white males. They also have the least access to health care among any group of women and have the lowest high school graduation rate of all women.
So how does MUA help work toward a world without these significant gaps in success? The answer lies in small steps. MUA’s focus is on helping Latinas learn English, which is a common prerequisite for employment – and more generally, for success – in the United States. Some women come to MUA with no reading or writing skills. These women first learn how to read and write in Spanish, and then progress to English classes. Following basic literacy skills, MUA has various levels of English classes. It also has various job certification classes, to be taken in conjunction with or upon completion of English classes. These classes, along with social services such as daycare and affordable housing counseling, serve as stepping stones to allow the women who come here to gain employable skills, seek new career opportunities, and overall build better lives.
On a personal level, progress is seen in both subtle and clear ways. As students continue to take classes, their language skills increase, they become more comfortable in social situations that require them to speak English, and their confidence grows. On a national scale, progress is more easily measurable. The percentage of Latinas who have graduated high school from 2003 to 2013 grew by 14 percent. College degree attainment has been increasing by roughly 0.5 percent every year, and their representation in the fields of teaching, law, medicine, and management has grown by 30 to 40 percent in the last decade.
These changes are steps in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. Latinas deserve equal opportunities to achieve success in the United States, and it is partially through organizations like MUA that they will eventually be able to.