Leader Spotlight: Jesusa Rivera

Jesusa Rivera is a member of Gamaliel affiliate, TAP, in Indiana.  TAP engages five churches, four of which are in South Bend. Jesusa is also the chair of TAP’s, Civil Rights for Immigrants (CRI), that seeks comprehensive immigration reform that will serve justice for all states, not just Indiana.  Additionally, Jesusa is the current Indiana Hispanic/Latino Affairs commissioner, appointed by Speaker of the House, Brian Bosma.  Jesusa has been honored with the 2005 National Hispanic Leadership Award, the 2005 Spirit of Women Award, the 2000 Martin Luther King Volunteer Award for the City of South Bend and the 1998 Dana Corporation’s Teamwork Award. 

What is happening within TAP that aligns with Catholic Social Teaching?

We continue to meet with different affiliates and our members of Congress in order to know if Congress will stand up for what we want.  We’re working on building strong allies and relationships, primarily around our legislators.  Apart from that, we have actions going on across the state.  On March 17, we had a prayer vigil.  Instead of naming individuals who were deported, we took a big whiteboard and had pictures of them with their families.  We then showed these individuals being separated from their families.  It was a 45 minute event and it took place in Catholic Churches throughout the state of Indiana.  A message was sent to the U.S. Bishops to pray for immigration reform on the first of every month until just immigration reform is passed.  We know that there’s a lot of work to be done.

How has Catholic Social Teaching influenced your organizing?

I was raised to treat and see everyone as I would want to be treated.  There’s that saying, ‘If the person in front of me were Christ himself, how would we treat them?’  We are all a reflection of Christ.  It’s just how I’ve been raised by my parents–we always serve those who are the least of us.  We have experienced that low, which makes it all the more clear to me.  My parents were undocumented, we had the same experience.  We were looked down on.  They taught me to just turn the other way and smile because that is not how WE treat people.  They expected us to always serve and to always give everything that we had.  For instance, there was a family that moved by us and they had absolutely nothing, so we emptied out our kitchen and gave it to them.  That’s part of serving, that’s what we do.  

How do you think Gamaliel training has an effect on new organizers?

I remember the very first day of my first training.  Nobody prepared me for what was to come and sometimes that’s a good thing.  They make things clear for you through training; they help you with your self interests and zoom in on what’s important to you.  When new leaders are emerging, it’s hard to understand what you’re fighting for.  It lets you know why you are doing what you are doing and it sets the tone for what you’re going to do in the future.  Let someone try and stop me.  It lets me know that other people have the same power as well.  Training helped me channel my anger properly.  You’re learning something new every day.

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