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Salvadoran Immigrant Leads Fight for Justice in U.S.

September 23, 2005

LOS ANGELES, California – Pablo Alvarado has come a long way since making the arduous and undocumented trip in 1989 from his native war-torn El Salvador to the United States, where he now helps legions of Hispanic and other workers as the head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.As coordinator of the network for the past three years, Alvarado, 38, has battled for the rights of the workers who are on the bottom rung of the U.S. economic ladder, without the protection of labor laws or unions.Time magazine identified him last month as one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States, a select group including figures such as Attorney General Alberto Gonzáles and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.The newsweekly even dubbed Alvarado “the new César Chávez,” referring to the legendary founder of the United Farm Workers.“OBVIOUSLY I don’t do my work because I want to be famous or because I want to be like César Chávez,” the activist said in an interview with EFE, adding that the comparison with the UFW leader “troubles me, because I would need to mount three 25-day hunger strikes to put myself in the man’s shoes.”Alvarado noted, however, that his appearance on Time’s list might help him in his efforts on behalf of the day laborers, or jornaleros, by making politicians and officials more willing to accept his calls.BORN in 1967 to a peasant family in the eastern Salvadoran province of Usulutan, Alvarado earned a degree from the University of El Salvador and became active in social causes, teaching literacy as a volunteer with a group promoting improved public health – a risky activity during a time when soldiers were hunting down left-wing guerrillas in the countryside.“It was hard and one always went around with a lot of fear, and the soldiers stopped us at intervals. And I don’t know why nothing ever happened to us,” Alvarado said.He says he came to the United States in 1989 for the same reasons as many of his compatriots – “the war and poverty.” “I didn’t come with a visa, because they don’t give visas to the poor, they give visas to the rich,” said Alvarado, now a permanent U.S. resident living in Pasadena with his wife and two children.Alvarado recalls doing a wide variety of jobs when he first reached the United States, from working in a factory making shampoo and soap to house-painting and lawn maintenance. But it didn’t take long for him to return to social activism.IN 1990, he began volunteering as a tutor for a literacy program at the YMCA. Soon, he remembers, he found himself working all day at whatever was available to support himself, learning English in the evenings and spending weekends teaching Hispanic immigrants how to read and write.Alvarado says he heard about the plight of day laborers from his students at the YMCA. They complained to him about being harassed by police when they congregated on street corners to await prospective employers.NOW, as head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Alvarado speaks out against “all the hate crimes that occur against day laborers.”He says that he is seeing in states across the country the kind of hostility against jornaleros that existed in California 10 years ago.“What they’re doing now is evictions from housing, because rent is very expensive and sometimes up to 10 jornaleros rent a room to live,” Alvarado said.

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