A Community Organizer at the Core
Erika Guadalupe-Núñez, the executive director of Juntos, a local immigrant rights organization, and is committed to bringing social change and building power.
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Erika Guadalupe-Núñez, who is originally from Mexico, migrated to the United States with her mother at a young age.
“My mom, like many other immigrants, was seeking to build a better life in the U.S. because it was no longer possible in Mexico,” said Guadalupe-Núñez in an interview with AL DÍA.
Starting anew in a different country. Guadalupe-Núñez grew up undocumented. At 17, she started to become politicized about what it means to be undocumented living in the U.S.
There’s a saying in the immigrant movement that states, “Sin papales, sin miedo.”
Becoming more aware of the rhetoric surrounding immigrants inspired Guadalupe-Núñez toward her path to becoming a community organizer.
The DREAM Act was one of the main catalysts that drove her toward that path.
“Seeing that fail multiple times as a young person and knowing then that was the only option presented to me at the time, it made me question, ‘what does it mean, for me?’” she asked.
When Guadalupe-Núñez arrived to Philadelphia for school, she started doing deportation defense work and eventually obtained a special visa and later a green card.
“I’ve always been someone that was really moved by social causes and social injustice,” said Guadalupe-Núñez.
She can recall back in the second grade when she learned that cheetahs were going extinct. Upon learning that they were dying out, she organized her classmates to write a petition.
“It was sort of like the way I grew up,” she said. “I started organizing at a young age and it really did come from my personal experience as someone who was undocumented and having people call me slurs when I was younger.”
The challenges didn’t stop there, and as she got more involved in the movement and meeting others, and started hearing about their stories, as well.
Over the years, Guadalupe Núñez has seen the rhetoric surrounding immigrant communities, and the harm it often causes.
In addition to being a community organizer, Guadalupe-Núñez is also an artist.
Through her art, she has been able to honor her heritage, while also using it to highlight the challenges within the immigrant rights movement.
“I think art helps build power,” Guadalupe-Núñez said.
“For me, part of the reason that we fight is to preserve and move our culture, our language and traditions forward. That’s why it’s so important to make sure it has a role in all of our social change efforts,” she added.
With the often harmful narratives surrounding the immigrant community, Guadalupe-Núñez believes art — particularly with messaging that comes directly from members of the immigrant community — can be a strong way to combat it.
Executive Director at Juntos
In March 2020, Guadalupe Núñez was appointed the executive director of Juntos.
She first became introduced to Juntos while working with the Migrant Power Movement, an organization in which she worked for 8 years prior.
Upon learning about an uptick in community arrests in Montgomery Country, the Migrant Power Movement traveled to Montgomery County to organize and support the individuals being affected.
Members of Juntos were also there to show support for the movement.
“From there, I was like, ‘I would love to get to know this organization that came and supported us,’” she said.
Guadalupe Núñez started attending their events and meetings, volunteering and later become a board member.
Her biggest role prior to becoming the new executive director was helping create art for their events.
Guadalupe Núñez joined Juntos during a period of inactivity for the organization; her first day as executive director was the same day the stay-at-home order was instituted in Philadelphia.
“There was a lot of instability around the organization and I had to really firmly take hold and respond to the moment,” she said.
She did just that as she strived to help communities navigate the pandemic and the continuous challenges facing immigrants everyday.
As the executive director of Juntos, Guadalupe Núñez finds most fulfillment from seeing the community build power and become leaders in their own way.
Guadalupe Núñez sees herself as someone who strives to carry out the mission of the organization through direct communication from the community,
An Emerging Leader
On Friday, May 19, Guadalupe Núñez will receive the 2023 AL DÍA Women of Merit Emerging Leader Award.
She notes being very touched by the recognition.
However, as someone who works within the trenches of the immigration situation, she understands how important it is to find that balance between the public and private matters of the individuals she works with.
“I think a big part of it is just serving the community and that is a sign of merit for me,” said Guadalupe Núñez. “Folks who get up everyday in service for their community members more than anything else.”
As an Emerging Leader Award recipient, Guadalupe Núñez acknowledges that there are various types of leaders, from the most visible and vocal to those who work in the background.
However, the most important component is making sure that things are getting done and impact is felt.
“I consider myself the kind of person that’s willing to do the spadework of organizing… the nitty gritty, non-glamorous tasks that are important to build the relationships.”
“I think that’s what a lot of good leaders need to do,” she added. “They extend themselves so that other people can reach their full potential.”
That’s the approach Guadalupe Núñez takes in her work each and every day.