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Carmen Guerrero, co-founder of Coalición Fortaleza Latina, pro-immigrant organization based in Norristown. 
Carmen Guerrero, co-founder of Coalición Fortaleza Latina, pro-immigrant organization based in Norristown. 

“Immigrants are slaves to neoliberalism”

Five years ago, Carmen and her friend Amanda Levinson founded Coalición Fortaleza Latina, a non-profit organization that seeks to make history by empowering…

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The day that Carmen was born, she was given a last name that serves both to identify her and describe her character: Guerrero, which means warrior, fighter.

Although eloquent, Castilian, and inextricably linked to Mexico’s history of miscegenation, the name doesn’t change the color or the ancestral features that blood carved on her skin of ahuehuete.

Daughter of the Tzeltal and Otomí indigenous peoples, mother of three Dreamers, untiring worker, and migrant… Carmen arrived in Norristown 18 years ago, not pursuing the “American Dream”, but driven by survival instinct more than any pursuit of an “American Dream,” a dream which she never had.

Carmen lived in Mexico City until Feb. 2000, city where she had reinvented herself a thousand and one times to face one obstacle after the other. One of those was in 1994, when she lost her job in a building firm that went bankrupt after the launch of NAFTA.

She had developed a successful career as a machinery assistant, a haulage assistant, and then as an assistant accountant, all of which gave her the opportunity to travel around her country.

It was a hard hit: from making 3,000 pesos monthly, around 165 dollars, Carmen’s salary was nearly cut in two, falling to 1,600 pesos, or 88 dollars per month as a secretary. As single mother, waiting for an opportunity was a luxury Carmen couldn’t afford.  

But one day,  opportunity knocked while she was buying cilantro at Mexico City’s Central de Abasto, the biggest market in the world. A vendor asked her to take care of his spot for a moment. That moment turned into hours.

An immigrant is a slave to neoliberalism, a slave that is not considered a human being.

When the man came back, embarrassed by the wait and surprised by Carmen’s sales, he asked her to work with him for 100 pesos a day. Since then, Carmen has never again been anyone’s secretary.

At the market, she learned the art of trading products during night shifts, and she developed the ability to move quickly through an 808 acre-long maze –seven times the Vatican City. She learned the language of business and blended into the market’s ecosystem. She also learned how to carry huge loads, earning her the nickname of  “the wonder woman.”

She thrived to the point that she became a wholesales person. She bought a truck which she used to drive every day to the neighboring state of Puebla to stock up on goods. The last time she did that was on December 24, 1999. That day she was kidnapped by gang members who, during the week-long kidnapping, robbed her of her truck, half a million pesos, and her inner peace.

Broke and depressed, Carmen decided to cross the border, “a traumatizing and painful experience,”, as she recalls, due to the fact that it meant she was once again living through an experience where her life was in peril and she was risking separation from her daughters.

She came to the U.S., went back to Mexico, and came again. She survived after being abandoned in the desert by her coyotes, after suffering sexual harassment, after being mistreated by “la migra,” the border police. She survived the uncertainty and the fear that became deeply embedded in her soul after having suffered so much, a fear, though, that she no longer feels.

Carmen’s life hasn’t been easy. But she has kept moving on with her pride intact and a complete awareness that her story is one that is shared by millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Five years ago, Carmen and her friend Amanda Levinson founded Coalición Fortaleza Latina, a non-profit organization that seeks to make history by empowering migrants living in Norristown.

Carmen is a finalist in the I Am An American Immigrant campaign, brought to you by AL DÍA News with the support of Cabrini University.

What’s an immigrant in the U.S.?

The bad thing: An immigrant is a slave to neoliberalism, a slave that is not considered a human being.

The good thing: [An immigrant] is a human being with so much dignity, so much humanity, that even through the pain, he or she is always smiling.

What’s it like being an American immigrant?

I don’t like the term “American” because when we miscommunicate, we start misunderstanding.

I am a migrant who lives in the United States. For me, that means to be able to empower my community the same way I was empowered.

What are the contributions immigrants make to this country?

Our contribution is our strength. We are stronger, we are mentally prepared to struggle because we are always ready to fight.

To migrate is a natural thing. I came due to a bad situation, but we all like to travel, we all dream of getting to know different places, that is how migration works. And that spirit of dreamers is what we give to this country.

What would you say to Donald Trump if you had him in front of you?

[In Mexico] we say, “You have to ignore stones because they just don’t listen.” The truth is that I’d never like to talk to him. As a human, he is a poor man that just pays attention to money.

Trump is a showman in the system and I don’t want to be part of that. I don’t want to waste my time.

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