Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference.
Mónica Ramírez is an advocate, organizer, social entrepreneur and attorney fighting to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity who has dedicated her career to justice for migrant workers. She created the first legal project in the United States dedicated to addressing gender discrimination against farmworker women, which would later become Esperanza: The Immigrant Women’s Legal Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. She’s the founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women, an organization dedicated to ensuring and advancing the human and civil rights of migrant women and their families. JMW recently joined forces with Workers Lab Innovation Fund, Collective Future Fund, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program, Latinx Therapy, and the Eva Longoria Foundation to launch “Healing Voices“, a mental health initiative that’ll aid some of the nearly 3 million farmworkers in the U.S.
Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?
There are many. One of them is my sister, Luisa. She passed away recently, but I think of her every day. She was a protector and a champion for me. She also endured a lot of pain. I honor my sister through my work. The majority of my clients have been Latina worker low-paid workers and they have had an incredible impact on my life. It has been an honor to represent and serve them. They have taught me resilience and courage. My mom and my great-grandmother are the other two Latinas who have helped to shape me. They were my first role models. They taught me strength, cultural pride and the ability to find joy.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I wish that I had the gift to heal people’s pain. So many of us hold deep wounds and trauma that gravely impact our lives, relationships, and our ability to thrive. I deeply feel people’s pain and anguish. If you tell me that your arm hurts, my arm will start hurting- I have that high level of empathy. When I encounter people who are wounded, hurting, searching for love, answers, and justice I wish that I had the power to ease that pain and to heal those wounds. I think that our world would look a lot different if people did not have to carry that pain with them.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Someone once told me to always remember that “together, we will win” and that has stuck with me throughout my career and the advocacy work I do. This has helped me to realize how important it is in this work that we all remember that progress is possible when we work together to make change. Social change is not a one-person endeavor. It requires us to learn from one another, to teach each other, to show each other our hearts and other ways of seeing the world and to pool our resources to do as much good as possible.
What would you title the autobiography of your life?
I would title my autobiography Toward Progress. I think that captures the way that I see my work as a long journey toward making progress and making the world better, as well as a nod to the fact that I am very much a work in progress as a leader, mom, and overall human constantly trying to learn, grow and improve myself so that I can do my work to the best of my ability.
What was the first thing you bought with your own money?
This is really hard to say! The first thing that I remember buying, aside from candy at the corner store, is Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All record from the Woolworth in my hometown.
What do you wish more people understood about what you do?
Since I am involved in many different initiatives, I think that some find it difficult to see how all of my work is connected and why it is so important to me to use a wide range of tools to make change. To me, there is great value in using as many strategies and techniques as we can in our social justice work. I value organizing and power building as much as the litigation and policy work, not to mention the community education and culture change efforts that we are undertaking. I hope that people will see the value in the different ways that people are doing our work because they are all necessary and each makes an impact in their own way. I have the incredible fortune of not only getting to use different strategies in my work, but also to get to work with many different people, types of organizations and communities. It’s incredibly fulfilling and pushes me to think about solutions from multiple perspectives.
What motivates you?
The community members who I serve motivate me. I am also motivated by my family, from our history to thinking about the future and the world that my son will inherit. I am doing my small part so that he will inherit a world that is better, safer and more just. I am inspired by my colleagues and my movement friends who work tirelessly to win peace and justice. They give me so much hope.
How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?
I was fortunate to be born into a family with roots in the farmworker community. My parents instilled a great appreciation for the farmworker community and struggle, as well as an early understanding of the injustices that exist. I sometimes say that I was born into my work because my family created the foundation for the path that I have been on for so many years. Justice for Migrant Women was born out of the curiosity that they instilled in me, as well a deep desire to give back. This has fueled my ongoing efforts to tackle the issues impacting the farmworker community and other migrants. I have scaled this project three times —from a state—based initiative for farmworker women in Florida to a national initiative for farmworker women and other immigrant women workers when I was working as an attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center to its current form — a stand-alone organization for farmworker women and all women who migrate for work.
What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?
Such a difficult question! My greatest achievement is both personal and related to my profession. I guess it would be not being afraid to create my first legal project and the organizations and other initiatives that have followed. I think it’s important for people to realize that success is not only marked by big wins. In my opinion, success can also be achieved by our sheer willingness to take the leap and create something that we believe can help fill gaps and meet needs is an accomplishment in my mind. For me, my personal and professional lives are intertwined because I do my work to honor my family and I hope that my chosen career will help to remedy some of the historic wrongs that have existed. The other major personal achievement is being a mom. It is one of the hardest and most important jobs that I have ever had in my life. I am constantly humbled because I have a lot to learn and to unlearn, frankly. My son challenges and teaches me so much constantly. I only hope that I can live up to the greatness that he deserves.
What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?
I haven’t written my book yet! It has been a stop and go process for a few years. I have found it difficult to focus on writing because the day to day needs that exist in the community are so overwhelming and urgent. But I am getting closer and I am thankful for lots of support from my family and other great folks to help me move in the direction to actually make the space and the time to write. So stay tuned!
Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love:
Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:
I love Lil’ Libros (@lil_libros), which was founded by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein. As a mom, it is really important to me that I educate my son about our culture and some of our great customs, language, foods and leaders. I want him to be really proud of being Latinx. I have been buying these beautiful books for him since he was baby.
Name your favorites: Snack, Song, Artist
Song: So many!! But, I often listen to “Quiet” by MILCK. It is such a good song that
reminds me of the power of our voices.
Artist: Geraluz Lozano