Mexico native Remedios Perez came to the States for her husband’s job. After facing obstacles in her new country and seeing her Latin American community face similar struggles, the part-time homemaker and house cleaner decided to set fear aside and use her love of learning for good, pursuing social justice for her community through the initiatives of Adelante Alabama. Now, the humble yet passionate social activist and community organizer is President of Adelante Alabama’s Board of Directors, and she is a dynamic force behind the organization’s mission to defend the rights, promote the dignity of and pursue justice for day laborers, domestic workers and other low-wage and immigrant workers and their families in Birmingham. We are delighted to introduce today’s FACE of Birmingham, Remedios Perez!
What drew you to become involved with Adelante Alabama?
I got involved in order to learn more about how to help my community. It has given me the skills to be able to reach my own community, to support people and ensure that we are not intimidated by abusive employers.
Tell us your role in advocating for human rights on behalf of Adelante as President of its Board of Directors.
So, I actually don’t like the term president, because we are all working together here. I’m also a member of the organization in addition to being a member of the board, and we all work together to do the work that we do. As part of the board, I also help with fundraising, doing things like putting on kermeses, which are traditional Latin American festivals, in order to raise money for the organization.
Adelante has many programs and initiatives. What projects are you currently prioritizing?
So right now, we’re working on the campaign to make Birmingham a sanctuary city and ensuring that the city passes an ordinance to give specific protections to immigrant residents. We always work in the area of worker’s rights, including supporting people to recover stolen wages and supporting cases on women who have been mistreated and sexually abused in the workplace. We do community deportation defense. And we also have a campaign to shut down the Etowah County Detention Center, which is one of the worst detention centers in the country.
We also do a lot of cultural work. We do cultural celebrations, like the 15th of September, which is Mexican Independence Day to not forget our roots. And we also do an annual Day of the Dead celebration on November 2, where we build a huge altar here inside the center that’s all natural and traditional, so no fake flowers, nothing plastic — everything is natural and original. Right now we’re working on all of those projects.
How has the last election impacted your community? Your organization?
I think a lot of my people felt attacked and criminalized, even though we contribute to society. A lot of people are very scared, but we have to keep moving forward.
What is the greatest obstacle to moving communities forward towards achieving social justice?
We’ve got a lot of obstacles. There are a lot of things that we aren’t able to do because of racism and discrimination. Even those of us who are immigrants but have kids born here who are U.S. citizens, we’re still discriminated against. These are obstacles that we hope one day no longer exist so that we can all feel good living here.
How do you define success in pursuing social justice?
When we actually get to gather together and celebrate a case that we’ve won against an abusive employer. And we like seeing the organization, Adelante, get recognition for doing that work and for the person to get justice in their case, because, as we say, Un dia trabajado, un dia pagado, so “A day of work is a day of pay.”
What is most rewarding about your social justice work?
When we have those successes and win individual cases, we know that yes, we can — si, se puede — and that we can go on to help more people and those people can help more people.
How can people get involved with Adelante or support its initiatives?
We speak with members of our own community and the larger community. Anyone can get involved as either a member or an ally of the center. We invite people to come out to support when we have a march or a public action, to participate at events here at Adelante. We say that everyone is welcome regardless of race, color, gender, anything — regardless. Everyone is welcome. People can come to our asambleas, our worker assemblies, which is our meeting that we host every month, and to all our different trainings and workshops. And they’ll be able to see with their own eyes that this organization helps a lot of people.
Why is this advocacy work important to you?
I like it because I love to learn, and every day, I am learning something new. I’m learning to abandon my fear and support my community. And I still have a lot left to learn. I’ve been a member for a little while, but I know that I still have a lot left to learn, and I love learning new things. I just love always saying “yes” and involving myself more and more.
Tell us a little bit more about the fear that you’ve abandoned, because we see you as very courageous.
I did used to have a lot of fear, because I’ve had to confront a lot of obstacles in my own life. I’ve had to confront racism, but becoming a part of this organization, I’ve learned how we all have rights, regardless of immigration status. And every day, we’ve got to live our lives. I have to work; I came here to work. I have a daughter that I have to bring to school every day, and we just have to get over the fear that we feel. I can’t let the fear hold me back, because if I do that, what kind of lesson am I teaching my daughter? We’ve got to keep struggling and fighting and leave fear behind.
What do you do for fun when not working?
I just like spending time with my family — my husband and my daughter. Because of my daughter, we love going to the Birmingham Zoo and the McWane Science Center, seeing movies and, of course, going out to eat ice cream.
Do you have any mentors or role models, and if so, why do you admire them or what have they taught you?
My mother, because she always taught us to work hard and to fight. She always taught us to speak truthfully, because lies aren’t good. And to always be humble, because humility comes first.
What do you love most about Birmingham?
I love that this is a place where you can find things from Mexico, and that I’ve also gotten to know other Latin American cultures, like Salvadorian and Colombian — that there’s a mix of cultures here.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
That I’m going to be a mother for a second time, after nine years of thinking that I wasn’t going to have any more kids.
If you could have a superhuman power, what would it be?
My superpower would be to keep all families together or to stop families from ever getting separated — innocent people who are in jail, kids that end up without their father or their mother — I would stop that.
What is your best piece of advice?
Always look forward, keep fighting and never look back.
Name three lighthearted or frivolous things that you cannot live without.
Mexican food! Tortillas, tamales and hot peppers.
Thank you, Remedios! Learn more about Remedios’ work and how you can get involved at Adelante Alabama by visiting adelantealabama.org.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Remedios at the Adelante Alabama Worker Center.