By Monica Ruiz
Editor’s Note: Monica Ruiz is Community Organizer for Casa San Jose, an organization dedicated to assisting immigrants in the Pittsburgh region and a former project of the Thomas Merton Center. Ms. Ruiz will be awarded the Center’s NewPerson Award for 2018 on June 26th. She describes below the nature of her work and how she came to be such a dedicated advocate for immigrant rights.
For many years I worked in direct practice as a social worker, primarily with Latino youth, who often had drug, alcohol, and mental health issues. When I moved to Pittsburgh, I wanted to continue that work, but with a focus on the systemic changes that needed to take place to create the conditions for them to have better lives. So, I went back to the University of Pittsburgh to get a Master’s in Social Work in community organizing and social administration.
My current position as Civic Engagement and Community Organizer at Casa San José gives me an excellent place to do that. Casa improves the lives of Latino immigrants through helping them find services, legal protection, livelihoods, healthcare, shelter, and most importantly, self-sufficiency. It is working to bring them and their neighbors closer together. It is striving to advance policies to create a city, country and world of justice and opportunity for all. It is encouraging all people to treat each other with love and acceptance.
What I mainly do at Casa San José is to organize and advocate for Latino immigrants. I set up clinics to help immigrants learn their rights, get legal advice, find out about opportunities, prepare for ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids, and maintain DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) authorization.
I organize visits to legislators and policy makers, teams to protect those picked up by ICE, training sessions for advocates, and community meetings. I bring groups of immigrants and supporters to marches, workshops, and convenings. I speak publicly about immigrants and especially their current persecution everywhere I can: at demonstrations, hearings, meetings, workshops, universities, churches, and other venues. I work closely with many other organizations in Pittsburgh who are also seeking a just and welcoming city.
Much of the passion for this work comes from the fact that I am a child of immigrants, my husband is an immigrant, and every morning when I wake up I know that because of the color of my skin, I will experience discrimination. But it is mainly Casa’s strong values and mission, along with my own Catholic faith, that guide my work at all times.
Monica Ruiz is the Civic Engagement and Community Organizer at Casa San Jose as well as the 2018 Merton Center New Person Award Recipient.