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Q&A with Maritza Maldonado, Executive Director of Grantee Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment

Established in 2012, Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment (Amigos de Guadalupe) is a nonprofit organization based in the Mayfair neighborhood of East San Jose, California, that primarily serves the immigrant community with financial security, educational, housing, and advocacy opportunities.

Amigos de Guadalupe is also one of the founding members of the Si Se Puede Collective (SSPC), which aims to make transformational change in East San Jose in areas such as high-quality public education, permanently affordable public housing, promoting democratic values, and protecting cultural assets and community identity.

As part of this work, Amigos de Guadalupe recently purchased the family home of Cesar Chavez, an American labor leader and civil rights activist, to preserve this property for the community of Mayfair and East San Jose. Below you can find a Q&A with Maritza Maldonado, Amigos de Guadalupe’s Executive Director, in which she reflects about what the purchase of this home means to the East San Jose community, what plans they have for the property, and more. The Heising-Simons Foundation’s Community and Opportunity program supported Amigos de Guadalupe’s purchase of this property with a $100,000 grant as part of its strategy to help build resident power in the City of San Jose.

This year marks Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment’s 10th anniversary. Congratulations! Part of your anniversary event in September 2022 was to celebrate the purchase of the family home of Cesar Chavez. Could you tell us a bit more about what the purchase means to the Mayfair/East San Jose community, and preserving Cesar Chavez’s legacy? 

Thank you. When we saw that the home of Cesar Chavez was listed for sale on the private real estate market, we knew in an instant that this was sacred ground that must stay in community hands. We are deeply grateful to the Chavez family for trusting us to honor and preserve Cesar’s legacy for community benefit.

Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment is simply the steward of the Cesar Chavez Family Home, on behalf of the community that he loved and fought for his entire life. Our role is to continue his legacy, honor his work and the values that drove his work, and make sure that the sacred space will be used to benefit the community of East San Jose and beyond. Not only will we honor the legacy of Cesar and the entire Chavez family but we’ll inspire the next generations of leaders and changemakers in San Jose and beyond.

Cesar’s story and family home are deeply treasured by local residents.  Local students find hope, possibility, and healing in his model of humble and people-centered leadership and his dreams for this neighborhood. The social justice movements begun by Cesar and his allies have continued to shape movements for justice and equality for decades in Mayfair and across the world.

In the words of Paola Mondragon, a young adult and lifelong East San Jose resident: “Words fall short when explaining how special this preservation is for someone who grew up here. At the same time, I realize that this preservation not only belongs to East San Jose, it also belongs to the entire city, state, and any individual that was moved by Cesar Chavez. For many Eastside youth, understanding that East San Jose is home to one of the greatest activists, is what makes you prideful about living where you live, despite all the negative stigmas being thrown at you day by day (…) Preserving the Chavez home now means opening a new door of opportunity to empower our own children and families. It means being able to give our community a chance to ignite that fire within themselves that they may not be aware exists already. It means building new leaders, and preserving the education, history, and the culture that lies within East San Jose that many of our own families worked so hard to create. But most importantly, for our community and for me, it means keeping our pride alive. It means reclaiming our power, continuing Cesar Chavez’s legacy, and reigniting the start of many many new ones.”

What plans do you have for the property? Where are you in the development process?  Will community members and partner nonprofits be part of this process? 

We have grand plans for the property! But all of those plans will be shaped and guided by our community visioning process and the Chavez family’s input. Our process will start with a Community Visioning Meeting on November 12, where we hope to hear ideas directly from community members and partners, as to how they want the space to be preserved, honored, and activated in honor of Cesar Chavez. This will be the first opportunity for community input and engagement, and our architects/designers will use this community input to create several different possible plans for how to design and utilize the Cesar Chavez home in a way that honors him. Once we have a few draft designs, we plan to collect additional community input in early 2023 to further hone in on and refine the plans and the purpose for the Cesar Chavez Family home.

Maritza, we understand you are from East Side San Jose and grew up around community organizers including Cesar Chavez. From those experiences, what do you take with you to Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment, and what is the future you envision for the East Side San Jose community? 

I was raised around advocacy. I learned at an early age to speak my truth and to speak truth to power. Nothing would happen in East San Jose if we did not advocate and fight for every community gain we made. It is this inheritance that I bring to Amigos every day. I teach advocacy and talk about our resilience as a community to all staff and anyone else who will listen. What I know is that there is immense talent in the East San Jose community. When provided opportunity and access, our children end up at University of Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and other recognized universities, and many bring their talents back to the community to help lift it up because they know the need, and they know the realities of coming from economic poverty in East San Jose. Through love, faith, a sense of purpose, and a lot of community organizing, I know it is possible to do great work in our community.

In terms of the future vision of our community, I see home ownership, immigration reform, a thriving community where families earn a living wage and are supported by the benefits afforded other communities. I envision a more accessible education system that contributes to people being lifted out of poverty. I envision more of our community members coming back to contribute to their community after their graduation. Finally, I envision a variety of affordable housing options available to those who may continue to struggle, through land trusts, housing cooperatives, alternative units, and other related housing options.

What is it that philanthropic funders don’t know when it comes to the people from Mayfair/East Side San Jose and what investments can be made for this community?

What philanthropic funders may not know…. but we hope they do: East San Jose is sacred ground. It’s a place of vibrancy and hard-working people with great strength, determination and resilience. We want to expand opportunities for ourselves and our children – just like everyone else.

Historically, our community has not been treated with the dignity and respect that are afforded other communities, and we experience the legacy of systemic discrimination and disinvestment every day. Poverty, racism, immigration status and lack of access to education and jobs make it difficult for families to achieve their dreams. This reality came into specific focus during the pandemic. Although this community performed many of the essential jobs needed during the pandemic, the community’s access to health care was demonstrably absent. Members of our community contracted COVID, became seriously ill with it, and died as a result of it at far greater rates than the rest of Santa Clara County.

Displacement causes many people to feel isolated and disconnected from the community, threatening our proud cultural heritage and the soul of the Mayfair neighborhood. This cannot continue and is one of the main reasons that we knew we had to protect the Cesar Chavez Home, to help protect the pride and dignity of East San Jose.

We hope that philanthropic funders will be willing to trust the East San Jose community and will invest deeply in some of our community priorities such as: preserving and activating the Cesar Chavez Family Home; high-quality public education; permanently affordable public housing and other necessary services; and promoting a deeper democracy.

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