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Christmas at the Day Worker Center in Mountain View
Christmas is bittersweet for Maria Marroquin this year. As Executive Director of the Day Worker Center of Mountain View, she looks back at the financially bleak 2009 with high hopes for the promise 2010 holds.
Photo by R. Robertson: Maria at a celebration with day laborers and supporters.
For Maria Marroquin, Christmas 2009 is bittersweet. As the holiday draws near, she enlists her 5-year-old granddaughter to help sort through a donation of clothing and toys at the Mountain View Day Worker Center, where Maria has served as Executive Director for nearly a decade. The donations are most welcome, say the workers who sign in daily, seeking work in local homes and gardens. Gifts from the community will supplement the meager incomes earned by those who come to the Center every morning...and wait.
Only fifteen percent of the workers who show up are matched with jobs on any given day. In recent years, the average worker’s yearly income has totaled about $5,000. When the figures are in for 2009, Maria says, the total will probably come to quite a bit less, probably in the range of $4,000. "The recession has hit everyone," she says, "but those earning the lowest incomes are getting hit the hardest."
Yet, in other ways, 2009 has been hugely successful for the Day Worker Center. For the first time after several moves in and out of temporary locations, the Center is finally on track to relocate into a permanent space. On May 12 this year the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously to grant the Center a conditional use permit to refurbish an abandoned dry cleaners', rejecting a local "Not In My Back Yard" group's campaign to deny the Center city approval. Several outspoken opponents of the new location for the Center called in a right wing extremist group called Judicial Watch whose stated mission is to "bust sanctuary cities".
To counter the NIMBY group, Maria gathered the support of friends and activists to demonstrate that local residents have nothing to fear from the relocation of the Center to the Escuela Avenue neighborhood. Former Center neighbors joined traffic managers and elected officials in giving testimony showing that conditions have actually improved in the residential areas where the Center has been located. Crime did not increase, traffic was not adversely affected, and the day workers spent their waiting time productively by gardening or making other pedestrian friendly improvements in every neighborhood.
Maria is excited that the Center will have a permanent home by the summer of 2010, and has high hopes for the new year. The Obama administration has committed to address immigration reform and the President has publicly endorsed the formation of a clearer pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. During a news conference in Guadalajara, Mexico last summer President Obama admitted, "Am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No. This is going to be difficult".
Despite this, Maria feels confident that change is on the horizon. "It's time," she said, "for something meaningful for all immigrants." Voting immigrants of many ethniciities helped Obama get elected, she points out, and immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship is the humanitarian thing to do. She knows from personal experience about the stress of going through a less than transparent process to become a US citizen.
Maria was a day worker when she came to the back door of the church where the Center first found space in 1999. Though trained as a teacher, she had come to America from Mexico City to join family and start a new life. Showing up at the Center each day, she sought work as a house cleaner. Soon she was helping ensure the day laborers started each day with breakfast. Next, she helped establish English language classes, and eventually integrated job training into the free on-site curriculum. Maria became the glue that held the Center together through its many moves and growing pains.
All the while, Maria worked on her own path to citizenship. After many years serving as the Center's leader, she was within days of being granted citizenship when in February of 2008 she hit a bureaucratic wall. Paperwork was supposedly "not in order", with no explanation forthcoming.
Now, almost two years later, the unexplained problems have cleared up, and Maria became an American citizen earlier this month. With that painful process behind her, Maria welcomes 2010 with the Day Worker Center's move to its permanent home on Escuela Avenue. The workers have already begun to prove themselves to their soon-to-be neighbors by landscaping the Senior Center on the same street.
Maria's next project? She wants to see local change regarding car impounding, wherein unlicensed drivers have their cars confiscated for months by authorities without recourse. Storage fees often run to the thousands of dollars. Maria wants to see that cars can be recovered after paying the citation only, as has recently become the case for residents of San Francisco.
With a long list of accomplishments behind her as 2009 comes to an end, Maria looks to 2010 with hope for another successful decade at the Day Worker Center.