Joanna Rivera

Basic Interview Metadata

Interview Text and Audio


Joanna Rivera discusses the work that the Latin American Coalition does to support, provide resources, and uphold the rights of the Hispanic immigrant population in Charlotte, North Carolina. From her work at the coalition as the Immigrant Welcome Center Manager she has been exposed to the widespread social issues that the Hispanic community faces on a daily basis, including labor exploitation, low wages, work- and stress-induced health issues, and constant fear of deportation. She discusses how personal dietary choices and non-living wages have a major influence on the health problems experienced by her clients. Despite the social and health issues faced by Latino immigrants, Joanna still thinks that living in the United States is a better option than staying in Colombia. Joanna believes that adequate immigration reform would bring Hispanic immigrants out of the shadows and enable them to lead healthier and more stable lives in the United States.



Tammy Chen: Hi, this is Tammy Chen. I am here interviewing Joanna Rivera. We’re at her office at La Coalición, or the Latin American Coalition, on Central Avenue in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is 9:27 am on March 12, 2015. Thank you so much for meeting with me today. It would be great if you could go ahead and introduce yourself and your background.
Joanna Rivera: Hi, I’m Joanna Rivera. I’m from Cali, Colombia, South America [laughs]. I came here…like, I think, I already lost count, maybe eighteen years ago? I came to the United States and I [interruption] went to New York for [interruption] five, six, I think it was seven years, and then I moved to Philadelphia for a couple of years, and then finally moved to Charlotte.
[00:01:13] TC: What was life like in your hometown in Colombia? What do people normally do there for employment, or if you know anything about the health care there? Any pervasive health issues? You know, just really anything about your hometown that you would like to share.
JR: Well, I know that in Colombia it’s not that expensive to go to a doctor. I know people, if they get sick they will go the doctor. ( ) for prevention services, they will go to the doctor before something happens. And that is way different in the United States, that’s what I know. Sometimes if I have a really, you know, something that I need to take care of and I know my insurance is not going to cover, or they, you know, the money that I have to pay for--to get that procedure done, then I will save money and go out to Colombia and do it in Colombia because it’s way cheaper, and I’m talking about dentist and maybe a colonoscopy. Stuff like that. Because sometimes the deductible will kill you here.
TC: Do you know about how job opportunities are in Colombia or in your hometown Cali? Is it easy to find a job there? What do people usually do? What do--
JR: --well I have family that are wealthy and my other side of the family which are hardworking people, I know that for my wealthy part of my family it’s all about connections. You can finish school, university, but if you don’t have any connections or somebody that you know that knows somebody that can help you to get a job, then you’re screwed. But if you know somebody, then you’re good to go. And for my, my other side of the family, the hard workers, I know it’s really tough and it’s difficult to find jobs there. They’re hustling, I think, almost every day, trying to figure out how to feed their children.
[00:03:17] TC: So is that what brought you and your family to the U.S.? Just to look for better economic opportunities?
JR: My mom was a domestic violence victim. My father is a very--was a very--wealthy man in Colombia. An attorney. So every time she complained to the authorities, they wouldn’t listen to her. So she couldn’t find a job because he will talk to anybody so that they won’t hire her. So my grandma said, “You know what, you need to get out of Colombia.” And they saved money, they ( ) money from other people, and that she ended up in the United States. She was fleeing from domestic violence.
[00:03:59] TC: Is there a reason why you chose to move to New York first? Did you have family there?
JR: My mom had a brother there. So, when she came to the United States in 1980 or 1982, I believe, she went straight to my uncle to live in New York.
TC: Did you have a job in New York, or how did you sustain your life there?
JR: I lived with my mom and she found a part-time for me to work to make me responsible, and I was going to school learning English and working a part-time.
TC: And then in Philadelphia, what was your experience like there?
JR: I found a job before I moved to Philly. So, I think it was, you know [phone rings], for me I think it was easy because I have [phone rings] documents. I came here with a green card. I waited for my mom to go through the process for fourteen years or more. So, when I got here I was fine. I think I’m blessed because I didn’t have to go through the struggles that the community go through when they don’t have documents.
TC: What was the job, if you would be willing to share, that you had in Philadelphia?
JR: In Philadelphia, I worked for a window company. I was doing the blinds, and then I worked in a calling center, and then finally found a job as a teacher assistant for ESL children that were coming too, from other countries, to Philadelphia.
[00:05:36] TC: So what brought you to Charlotte, North Carolina?
JR: My mom’s husband. He came here because he works in construction. He came here because they hired him and he was here for two months, I believe. So he told us about Charlotte, how beautiful Charlotte was and the weather. So, I came one day in December, and I was like, “You know what, this is where I want to be [laughs].” And I just moved. And I think I was lucky to find a job. Right when I moved in, I had a job a week after.
[00:06:09] TC: So how exactly did you find this job at the Latin American Coalition? Did you have connections here, and why--what exactly motivated you to work in this field?
JR: Well, I was a student at CPCC. I was doing my human services internship, and they told me that the coalition could be a good fit for me. So, I didn’t know about the coalition. I came and I was like, “Oh my god.” And this is where I found out that there are many people that were alienated and disenfranchised in the city. Coming from a big city like New York and Philadelphia, I knew [interruption] right in that moment that I needed to be here to help the community [interruption]. So, I did my one-year internship, and I was hired before my internship ended.
[00:07:06] TC: So can you talk more about the work of the coalition and how you contribute as--I believe you’re the Immigrant Welcome Center Manager. So--
JR: --Yeah. Well, the Immigrant Welcome Center is where we connect the community to the resources in the community. We guide people in the processes. We teach them to advocate for themselves because we have people come here thinking because they are undocumented, they don’t have [interruption] rights, so we educate them through workshops, and at the same time we tell them how the process for certain issues works. ( ) That’s what we do. We do the social work through the social action sometimes.
TC: What resources exactly do you connect them to? Job opportunities, health services?
JR: We have different programs here, and we have external and internal partnerships. So, I’m going to talk about the main issues that we see here, which is landlord-tenant issues. Landlords taking advantage of people that are undocumented because they don’t speak English, because they don’t know how to read. We have labor rights. People come here complaining about, “Okay, I didn’t get paid. My boss tells me that because I don’t have social security, he’s going to hold a week of payment. He’s not going to pay me regardless if I present a w-7 or what ever. And other crisis intervention situations. Issues with schools. Latinos being bullied. People getting--trying to connect to a health clinic, low-cost health clinics. They want to know where they can go. They already know they’re sick. They have children that are not American, so they don’t qualify for Medicaid. So we guide them to what other resources in the community to take these children to get their vaccines or they’re annual check-up that they’re supposed to go. And even for adults.
TC: You said internal and external resources--so you have people in the organization, in the coalition, who are able to be a resource as well? Or are they mainly just partners that you link them to?
JR: They’re partners that come here to the coalition because they know the need. We have the Department of Social Services, Child Care Resources, Legal Services ( ). And they come and deal with the community directly in their own language.
TC: So I assume that you have substantial experience and knowledge of the issues faced by Latin American immigrants, and specifically in North Carolina. [00:10:11] Can you tell me about any pervasive issues that you’ve seen throughout the community? Such as common labor issues, managerial abuse, wage theft, discrimination, you know anything really.
JR: Exploitation of Latino communities is very common here in Charlotte. And they believe that they don’t have rights. It’s very common in the community, and sometimes they just let it go. Abuse in the workplace. Sexual harassment against women. And the fact that they’re working--they’re told that they’re going to get a salary, and the hours that they are working for that specific salary goes beyond NC law. So we have to teach them, yeah, it’s okay to get paid, you know, a salary, but if you’re working 80 hours a week and you’re getting paid four hundred dollars, that’s less than the minimum that you are supposed to get.
TC: What kinds of jobs do most--or what’s the range of jobs that you deal with here? Like what kind of jobs do immigrants work that come to you guys?
JR: Construction, landscaping, cleaning, and in the kitchen of many restaurants. You will be surprised how many Latinos are back in the kitchen of many restaurants. American, Chinese, Mexican. From everywhere, there is always a Latino in the kitchen. Middle East. It’s funny.
TC: And so are most of the jobs like low-skilled jobs, or are there also people that come to you that are of the higher skilled or more technical positions? Or are they mostly just blue-collar--
JR: It’s mostly blue-collar people.
[00:12:12] TC: And are there any--have you seen any widespread health issues that immigrants have come to you with or that you’ve seen them experience like stress, anxiety, workplace injuries like musculoskeletal disorders, domestic violence--
JR: --workplace injuries is one of the things that we deal with here on a weekly basis. Our communities are told that, “Okay, if you come and work for me you don’t need to worry about insurance. We already have insurance.” And once an incident happens, you’re told, “Please don’t tell the [interruption] hospital that was something that happened at the workplace. And they’re trusting their employer once that happens and they denied that that accident happened at the job place. Then they end up not paying the bills, disabilities, and all those kinds of things.
TC: What other health issues have you seen besides this--
JR: --diabetes and overweight. I have many clients complaining about dieting. How their sugar levels are going up. That they are pre-diabetic and they blame the foods that we eat here [interruption]. I know from personal experience that my children’s doctor keeps telling me every day to buy organic food because that can contribute to girls having developed breasts early in life and all that. I see that that could contribute--and I’m not an expert on that--but I think that could contribute to your health issues when you don’t have money to buy organic food or the healthy food that your family needs. And that’s the complaint of the community. If I go and get the right things for my family, I’m only going to have food for three days. But if I go and buy in any supermarket that a person like me can buy, then I could feed my family for a whole week or maybe two weeks. And if you go to the Latino supermarkets you can tell the difference. If you go to Compare or Harris Teeter, or what’s the new supermarket that came from Florida?
TC: Oh, um [pause] Kroger? Or Aldea? [pause].
JR: Oh my god, the green one.
TC: Oh! Oh! Public!
JR: Public!
TC: Or Publix? [laughs].
JR: Yeah, so I had a customer--a client--asking me, “So, have you gone to--,” and I said, “Yes I’ve gone to--.” “So you’re rich, you must be rich.” And I’m like, “No I’m not. I went the day that they were opening. [laughs] They have good sales.” And she was like, “I can’t go there. I bought ( ) cheese and it was like fifteen dollars.” And she was like, “That’s too much. That’s like two hours of work.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” “And if I buy vegetables it’s way expensive for me.” So they’re trying to feed their children and themselves with good food, but it’s expensive.”
[00:15:15] TC: Do you think that this would not be a problem if they just had a higher income or if they were paid more, if they had better jobs here? Or do you think that their eating habits would have stayed relatively the same even if they had the income to buy healthier food?
JR: I think it’s a combination of both because we need to learn how to eat better because that’s the reality. The way we cook food it’s not really healthy. And because that’s our culture sometimes. You see them like, “Oh no, I’m fine. I’m fine eating beans with potato and plantains.” And that’s not the reality. That’s not good for your health. I think it will be a combination of education in how you can eat better to stay healthy, and income. Because if you are trying to feed your family with seven twenty-five an hour and pay the bills, that’s not something that is do-able.
[00:16:08] TC: So you mentioned diabetes and workplace injuries. Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
JR: Stress and substance abuse. And I learned here--you know like I said before--I think I’m privileged because I came here with a green card, thanks to my mom. But this hit me maybe four years ago when I had a family trying to sign a power of attorney and I didn’t understand why she was trying to sign a power of attorney to the custody of her children--if something happened to her husband--to her neighbor. And I’m like, “Why are you doing that?” And she was like, “’Because you never know, Joanna. You leave your house in the morning and you know you’re coming back. What are the chances that you are going to get in a car accident.” And I was like, “I don’t know.” And she was like, “They’re slim. But if I go out with my husband to work without having a driver’s license, without having a green card, I might not come back to my children.” And that causes stress to the whole family, even to children. Once they know that their parents are undocumented and they understand that, they are worried about, you know, they’re not coming home every day after work.
So I know that leads to alcohol abuse, because that’s what Latinos do, in my opinion. This is not an expert opinion, but we tend to go and have a drink to deal with stuff ( ) things that are going on in our house or our lives. So that’s what I see, and that’s the trend that I notice with my clients. The wife will come here and she will be like, “Hey, his driver’s license expired. Now he’s drinking more. He’s worried about not being to provide because he can’t drive anymore. He’s depending on other people.” It’s hard. So I’ll say that that’s the other health issue that we have with Latinos.
TC: So you think that the stress and substance abuse is mainly from being undocumented?
JR: That could be one of the reasons, and I can see how that affects people here on every day basis. I see the impact that of not having a driver’s license. And I think that if they will get a driver’s license, that would be the only thing that can, you know, ask the government. Because in Charlotte, you have to drive. In New York, there is public transportation that is great. So here, you have to have a driver’s license. And the fact that we have so many--how do you call it when the police stop people?
TC: Oh, checkpoints.
JR: Checkpoints. People stress out about those things. They’re really stressed out. I see clients crying here. “Can I stay here because I heard that there’s a checkpoint down the road.” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” One time I had to drive somebody to their house because it was like six and I really wanted to leave and she was like, “I’m not leaving, please take me.” And it’s hard.
You know, undocumented people, they need to drive around Charlotte. To work, to pick up their children, to go grocery shopping, to attend school meetings like any other person. But for them it’s different. For us, we take it for granted because you’re going home anyways. For them, it’s like I might not come back.
TC: Have any immigrants come to you guys and have you experienced any cases of people becoming deported or in the process of getting deported because they were stopped for a checkpoint or anything really?
JR: There’s a group here called Families United and they deal with those issues. Yeah, we have that group and it’s a group by the community. Community members, families that were in that particular situation in a certain point of their lives. And yes, we do help them to Familias Unidades--that’s how we call it in Spanish--Families Unidades. And they get the guidance that they need to--if they need to march from the court, and collect signatures, they will do it. And these are--if I’m not mistaken--they take cases of families that don’t have any criminal record. No DUIs or no domestic violence, and any other felony. That’s their rule.
TC: And so how exactly do they--besides advocating and rallies and collecting signatures--how do they advocate case-by-case? How do they address these deportation issues? Do they go to court with the immigrants, or how exactly does it play out in the end? Do people end up being able to stay or do they have to just go back to their country?
JR: I’m not an expert on this. Maybe Whitney Smith can help you with that but of my understanding, there’s something called discretional--[pause].I forgot the name. Meaning that the officer has the discretion to send this family to--or this particular person--to their own country, or leave them here. And I believe that there is a ten-year barcode. If the person has been here for more than ten years and paying taxes and working and not getting in trouble, then I believe they have the opportunity to let them go, obtain status in the United States. But I’m not an expert on that. You might have to talk to Whitney Smith about that.
TC: Okay. And are there any other social factors that you think may have affected people’s health here, besides their job experiences or being undocumented? Anything else really that you could think of that you would like to mention?
JR: Not right now to be honest. I mean, to me I think those are the main issues.
TC: Okay. And how--this is just kind of an irrelevant question [laughs]--but how does the coalition publicize its services to the community? How do people know about coming here? And how this is more of like a hub--this is kind of like a haven it seems like almost for some people, or like a home almost, a second home. How do people know about the coalition and what you guys do?
JR: Well, I think it’s two main things. One, we have been here for twenty-something years. And second, word of mouth. Not that we don’t go to the radio or newspapers, but I think it’s more word of mouth. People will come to me and say, “Hey, Joanna, my neighbor, my aunt, my sister told me that you guys can help me with this, and that’s how people know about the coalition. We have four cultural events, and that’s how we let the community know that we are here, and what we do.
TC: What kind of cultural events do you guys have?
JR: We have Night in Rio, which is for the Brazilian community. We have Cinco de Mayo. You know what Cinco de Mayo is. [Laughs]. Everybody knows! [Laughs]. We have CineMás, which is a series of Latino movies with social content. And then we have the Latin American Festival.
TC: Is there a large immigrant turnout there, or is there also a large turnout of people in Charlotte from everywhere--
JR: --from everyone. Yeah, and the idea is to share our culture with other communities, not only Latinos. To let them have a taste of our community, and then educate them in who we are and why we are some ways. Because people sometimes don’t understand when maybe a person from Nicaragua would talk so loud. That’s their culture [laughs], you know. So, I think that’s a way to teach our community. How Latinos act, and cook, and our folk dances.
TC: And I know that you guys have a lot of immigrants here that you guys see from Latin America, but do you also see people from other countries such as refugees from Burma? I know that there is a large population in North Carolina.
JR: Our door is open for everybody, but mainly Latinos come. But I can think about one person that I helped for the longest time and she was from Eritria. So yeah, we do have clients from other countries. Haiti and Brazil. Which is ( ) [laughs].
TC: How many people do you all see at the coalition?
JR: The immigrant welcome center--I will say in a busy day--we can see as much as forty, fifty people. And in a slow day, fifteen people.
TC: Okay. And so the welcome center is just in this office, or is somewhere else?
JR: First Floor.
TC: Okay. So just this entire floor. And people just come in and say, “Hi, I’m an immigrant from whatever country and I would like some services.” Is that how— [00:26:03] what’s a day like at the welcome center?
JR: Okay, people come and they’re looking for--“Okay, I lost my job. I need to feed my family.” ( ) We refer them to a pantry so that they can get food for their families for one week. Then we start doing the assessment. Okay, when did you lose your job? What are your skills? “Oh, I don’t have a resume.” Okay, let me take you to the job bank because they are going to be able to help you to build your resume, prepare you for a mock interview. Let me teach you how to apply online. You don’t have an outfit? We can refer you to Dress for Success for women. And if they have an interview pending, then they can do that. If they are working but their money is not enough, then we do a budget. We have a financial literacy class, and we empower people with teaching them about finances and making the right decision. Okay, if you can’t afford to buy milk, how come you’re spending money at the movie theaters? How come you eat every day at McDonald’s? “Oh, it’s only the dollar menu.” If you keep adding those things, then you are going to know that you can ( ) that. Cable is not a necessity. It’s just a luxury. Why don’t you cut your--. We try to guide them in how to have a better life without struggling.
We have information about labor rights when they come here looking for a job. We have many people--companies in the community called La Salinas. “Okay, we need five painters, one nanny, one cleaning lady.” ( ) We connect these people with certain companies. We bring them here. We talk about, “Okay, in North Carolina, this is the law. They have to pay you seven twenty-five minimum. If you get injured in your job, you have to [interruption] report it, you have to make notes. Don’t believe your employer telling you, “No, it’s okay. I’m going to pay you everything.” Because at the end, if you deny you had that accident there, nobody is going to be able to help you. You need to complain to the EEOC. Let me help you. We can do it in English. We can do it in Spanish. You know, we advocate and we teach them how to advocate for themselves. ( ) Issues. Domestic violence. [background noise]. We help victims of domestic violence because, for them, it’s easy to come here and talk to me in their own language. They trust us because we are Latinos. They know we are not going to call the police if they don’t want to call the police. We connect them with the shelter and other things.
[00:28:48] TC: Overall, do you think that the immigrants here, that their health, their current situation, is better than it was back in their country of origin? Or do you think that often times it ends up being the same or worse because of certain issues that may arise here as being an undocumented, or even being a documented immigrant? Just being here and the challenges that they have to face in this country, do you think that in the end, it’s worth it for them to come all the way over here and try to start up a new life? Or do you think that it would have been almost better if they had stayed in their country and developed their own life there in a place that’s comfortable to them with people who speak their language, family, friends, connections there? What do you think about that?
JR: I’m going to talk about Colombia because I don’t know about other countries. But from what I know and my family, I know that even if you are undocumented in the United States, you can have a better life than in Colombia. Opportunities are very limited if you don’t know somebody or you don’t have education, then you’re not going to be able to ( ). Even if you work for a blue-collar job in Colombia, the money is not going to be enough for you get ahead of the game, even when you have children. So being undocumented in the United States could be a hustle, but I think it’s better than staying in your own country. Like my mom, for example. She works here. She is independent. She has her own car. In Colombia, I don’t think she would ever accomplish those things. You always have to have a roommate to support your house. Having a job in Colombia--I mean, a car in Colombia--is a luxury. Here, it’s something very common. Anyone can have a car. So I think it’s better off to be in a country like this one than being in your own country. I know if you work hard in the United States [interruption], you can get promotions. People see that you are a hardworker, you get opportunities. In Colombia, I think those are limited.
TC: In regards to health, do you think that the people that you’ve seen--or even your personal experience, or people that you know like your family or friends--do you think that their health has become better, stayed the same, or decreased since being here? Do you think that their health was better when they were in their country of origin and they didn’t have to stress about being undocumented or other language, communication barriers, or do you think that being here having to deal with those issues has deteriorated their health?
JR: I think for people that are struggling with not having documents, it’s stressful. And sometimes people keep quiet because they are afraid they are going to get fired if they complain about their company not using the safety measures they’re supposed to. I think that could cause stress and at the end, it would deteriorate your health. I think, to be honest, I believe--and I’m thinking about my mom--she only has insurance now because she applied for ObamaCare. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s something. I think that we are getting to a place where we are going to be able to have a good insurance, and go in take care of your needs. But if you ask me if she was going to the doctor before, no, because it was really expensive. And Latinos wait until the last minute, when you know that something bad is going to happen to you, because they don’t want to pay the bills. They don’t want to pay the bills and they end up going to the ER.
I had a client, who she knew that there was something really bad happening to her body and she--I kept telling her, “You need to go to the ER if you don’t want to--.” She was like “I already called the doctor and they are charging me three fifty. That’s more that I can afford. That’s not even a week of work. I get paid two fifty. How am I supposed to pay?” And I was like, “No. Maybe they will give you discounts. Why don’t you go here, there.”
They are thinking about medicine, the co-pay, or the full payment of when they go to and visit a doctor. They think about going to the health department and being asked about support letters and how they are paying the bills, and all of that. Sometimes most of the community works in cash. So if somebody goes in and cleans a house, they’re not going to get a letter from that lady saying that they work for them once a week. So, this lady waited until the last minute and her appendix broke. And it was really bad. So I think the fact that going to the doctor represents a huge amount of money. People wait until the last minute and then they go to the ER, which if you think about it, going to the ER here, it’s crazy.
[00:34:23] TC: So do most immigrants that you see--is the cost of health care so expensive because they don’t have insurance, and is the reason why they don’t have insurance because they’re undocumented, or are they just not able to pay their monthly co-pays, their premiums?
JR: It’s a combination of everything. Most of them work by themselves, self-employed. They don’t buy insurance. And when they want to buy insurance, they find out it’s really expensive. I have a friend and she was like, “Okay, I found this new job. They are offering me--working for an airline--.” She was like, “They are offering me health insurance. And I was like, ‘Great, because I never have insurance for me or for my children.’ And once I tried to enroll, they told me it was five hundred and fifty dollars. I’m like, ‘I can’t afford that.’” And then other people are talking about, “Yes, I have insurance, but now that I have insurance everything is more expensive.” Like co-pays. Deductibles. To have a colonoscopy, one of my friends was charged like twenty-five hundred dollars. And she was like, “If I go to Mexico, it will be five hundred dollars and that’s it.” So my insurance is paying for that procedure, and then I have to come up with this kind of money. It’s hard. And ( ) the other part of the community: “I don’t have money to pay for insurance. My employer doesn’t offer me insurance.”
TC: What about Medicaid, or any of those insurance programs? Have they been able to enroll in those, or do they often fall in that coverage gap where they don’t make enough to buy insurance, but then they also make too little--or make too much--[laughs] to be eligible for them?
JR: I don’t know if they changed the Medicaid rules, but I remember like a year ago, maybe two years, they would say, a single mother or a family ( ) apply for Medicaid. Children ( ) if their income level is less than two hundred percent of poverty line, then they will qualify. But parents [interruption], they might not if they are making five hundred dollars a month. Who’s going to survive with five hundred [interruption] dollars a month? Nobody’s going to survive on that. So yeah, that was a struggle for many of my clients. She was like--one of my clients that I see--she was like, “You know what, now I have a better job. And then I’m tying to get insurance, and then Medicaid told me that because I make more than five hundred dollars a month I’m not going to be able to get Medicaid. And then she applied for ObamaCare and she was denied because she was making eleven thousand dollars. She didn’t reach the point to where Obama is going to cover her--Obama, the government is going to cover her [laughs], that sounds so weird--her insurance. And she was like, “I don’t understand. My mom didn’t qualify for Obama last year because she made ten thousand dollars, [knock on door] and she was like, “Oh god”--
[Recorder is turned off and then back on]
TC: Okay, you can continue.
JR: She was like, “How in the world?” The government is not helping the people that need health insurance for real. The older you get--I didn’t know that--the older you get, the more expensive it gets. And she was like, “Oh my god.” So she got another job with a company that delivers medicine. And she was like, “Now I’m making more money. They want me to enroll in ObamaCare but now my company is offering me insurance so I have to do it through them, which is going to be more expensive. But I have to do it anyways because I’m going to get fined if I don’t do it.” You know, it’s complicated. It’s complicated. I think the government wants--in my personal opinion--we complain about people not being able to stay in their families, but once they reach the point that they can be independent but they still need help, then we try to push them back. Because I’ve seen that with my families. Yeah, you know ( ) I have my green card now, I have a better job, and now they took my Medicaid case. They closed it. And now I have to pay insurance for my children and me, and that’s going to be five hundred, six hundred dollars. It all depends on the insurance company.
TC: So just to wrap up. How do you think--so you’ve seen so many of these experiences of immigrants here in Charlotte. How do you think--I mean I’m not sure if the coalition advocates for public policy change or reform-- [00:39:14] how do you think, personally, or how does the coalition think that immigration policy, labor policy, health policy, any policy, and social policy really, could be changed or improved to help this community? It’s a really broad question, but [laughs] really anything.
JR: [laughs] I don’t work in the policy department but I know that I hear all the time, if the government approves the immigration reform, then we are going to generate more money, we are going to find a solution for many of these people that don’t have insurance and end up in the ER because they waited until the last minute because they didn’t have money to pay to see a doctor. Even if they don’t approve the immigration reform, like giving driver’s licenses to these people. Many of them don’t want to run from an incident but if they get into a car accident that doesn’t seem really dangerous, I hear people telling me, “Joanna, I just gave that lady three hundred dollars. I run away from the ( ) because I don’t want the police to come and arrest me. Or maybe I have to beg people to tell them, ‘Please don’t call the police. Let’s fix this between you and me.’”
I think if we give these people the opportunity to get status in the United States, they are going to be able to go to school, learn English, come out from the shadows, go to the doctors. Because sometimes I hear people saying, “You know what, I don’t want my name on any records in the United States.” And that’s how people get sick. If I’m stressing all the time, stressing about, okay, I can’t be seen, nobody can know about me or my family, that’s not good for your health. So I think approving the immigration reform will help bring people from the shadows to society. We can find a better place for them, enable them, educate them, find them a better job. We can avoid exploitation because many, many employers--believe it or not--they use the excuse, “Okay, you don’t have a social security? I’m not going to pay you. What are you going to do about it? You’re going to take me to court? Take me to court. Immigration is going to be there.” Immigration is not going to be there, but people believe that. If I’m undocumented, I wouldn’t risk it. Many people have been arrested for flying from one city to another with a passport. And if you think about that, that can also be in the middle of us and the tourist people that come here because if I have a passport and I’m a tourist, and every time I fly I’m going to be detained by immigration to know if I have--I’m not going to come here. Why would I come here? If that’s going to represent a hustle for me to come into the United States when I’m flying from one city to another, but that happens a lot. We tell people, “Don’t risk it. Drive. Drive if you have to go to another city to see a family member, your mom, or maybe an emergency. Drive. Because if you fly, you’re risking yourself to put yourself in deportation proceedings.”
TC: Going back to you and your work, do you think that you will be at the coalition? Do you like your work here? Do you think you will be at the coalition for a while in the future? Where do you see yourself in the future and in this field?
JR: I’ll see myself here because I’m working two major projects. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the day laborers, the guys that stand at the corner. The coalition is working on a project to protect them, to find them a shelter so they can wait for work without suffering from discrimination and exploitation. And that’s one of my goals. And the dispute program, to protect the community rights in terms of landlord and tenant issues, and labor rights. Because I see people arguing, you know, paying less than what they deserve under the North Carolina law, or nothing. And this is not slavery time. That was a long time ago. Why would you do this to somebody? I think that changing, in North Carolina, the labor law could help us to prevent this from happening again. So I think I’m going to be here for a while.
TC: Yeah, so if you don’t have anything else to add, I think that pretty much wraps up the interview.
JR: Okay.
TC: Thank you so much for meeting with me today.
JR: No, I’m really happy that I can help you. I hope that, with whatever I said, it will help you.
TC: Yeah. It definitely does. Thank you so much.
JR: Thank you.