Leader Spotlight: Jesus Guzman

Jesus Guzman is a Catholic community organizer in Santa Rosa, CA. He is the lead organizer for the Graton Day Laborer Center, an affiliate of the North Bay Organizing Project. Jesus works with day laborers and domestic workers, making sure they are paid a living wage, as well as coordinates with various programs and institutions, such as OSHA, to ensure safety and leadership opportunities in workforce development. Originally from Mexico, Jesus moved to California when he was one. The son of a dairy farmer and domestic worker, he grew up in Sonoma, CA and will be attending Sonoma State in the fall. 

How did your work with Gamaliel begin?

I started working with immigrant youth groups in 2011 and I helped form an immigrant youth organization called DREAM Alliance of Sonoma County. From there, I continued my work and in 2012 I joined Gamaliel around the time DACA was approved. My status as an undocumented immigrant youth compelled me to take action and change my own destiny including that of my family’s and hence set me on a course to organize with Gamaliel. 

What issues in your community have you been addressing and how have they aligned with the Fire of Faith campaign? 

We have been working on changing our county policy as it pertains to S-Comm which is a federal deportation program tearing our families apart. Secondly, we have also hosted DACA clinics and Immigration Workshops to help our community take advantage of DACA and best prepare for CIR upon its approval. We want to minimize deportations and we’re doing this through different actions and clinics to help immigrant youths obtain their documents. We’ve connected with the Fire of Faith campaign by working with our faith-based congregations; making the congregations a part of the process is reinvigorating by building bridges with other community partners. We have been holding vigils and actions outside of our county jail and across the country to bring to the forefront the moral component of the injustices happening to our immigrant community. In these actions we have environmentalists, unions, and faith-based congregations working for the same cause. This shows that immigration is a just cause; it allows us to make the moral argument that immigration reform is the right thing to do. 

In your view, how do the issues that the Fire of Faith campaign addresses align with Catholic Social Teaching? 

There’s a quote from Brazilian archbishop; “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” This quote reminds me of what we do, we provide services and we also ask why our systems marginalize our communities. We provide clinics and other ways to organize our community in order to win the victories we set our minds to. The work we do makes me think of liberation theology, it is one thing to give food to the poor, it is another to change the system that makes them poor. And we try to do both, we organize to let people take responsibility for their own future. Through the Fire of Faith campaign our congregations are reinvigorated through services and these services open the door to engaging, galvanizing, and empowering people. 

What appealed to you in the first place about Gamaliel’s Fire of Faith campaign? 

The Fire of Faith campaign lets the congregations take an active role in issues that are directly affecting them. We have congregations that are shrinking. Our congregations, for decades, have had trouble attracting youth and moving outside of the insular brick walls of the church. Through the Fire of Faith campaign we are moving our faith into action in order to better affect and win victories for our congregants and our entire communities that are impacted by such injustices as deportations and transit inequity. 

How has your Catholic background influenced your work in social justice? 

This question reminded me of a quote from Galileo: ““I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” He said this when he was being convicted of heresy, and the message is that we have tools and we should use them. It’s hard to believe that the God who gave us intellect doesn’t want us to use it. I’ve been inspired by Catholic philosophers and theologians who had a desire to have a deeper understanding of God and our faith. For me, liberation theology has taught me what Ricardo Arjona sang about claiming “Jesus is more than five letters, but a non-substantive verb”. A verb that is not about being but about doing and in a state of action, of relationships and community, of loving and caring for one another. Catholicism isn’t a monolithic faith but one that has a rich and diverse tradition of thought and love that continues to have an intense conflicting conversation within itself about issues in the modern day. Because of this I will continue to be a part of the conversation to help my church find itself in the 21st century and the many challenges we face together.

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