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A Vigil Endures 

YWCA's new group continues El Tiradito tradition, works to battle domestic violence and support women in business

click to enlarge Karina Reyes and other members of Las Promotoras Rompiendo Cadenas continue the tradition of holding vigil, at El Tiradito Shrine, for migrants who died in the Arizona desert.

Danyelle Khmara

Karina Reyes and other members of Las Promotoras Rompiendo Cadenas continue the tradition of holding vigil, at El Tiradito Shrine, for migrants who died in the Arizona desert.

Las Promotoras Rompiendo

Cadenas gathered at El Tiradito Shrine on Thursday, July 6, to continue a Tucson tradition: Remembering migrants who died crossing the Arizona-Mexico border.

Like the humanitarian group La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, who held the weekly vigil for 17 years, the small group sang songs, said prayers and lit candles to remember those who died during the treacherous desert crossing.

A faction of the YWCA's Latina Leadership Initiative, Las Promotoras decided to continue the vigil monthly after Derechos Humanos announced in May it could no longer make the weekly commitment and asked the community to step in.

Among Las Promotoras were a few members from the human-rights groups No More Deaths and Lucha Unida de Padres y Estudiantes.

"If we don't take a day, once a month, to honor people who have passed on simply for having a dream, what does that say about human rights?" Alba Jaramillo, director of programs at the YWCA and Promotoras member, said at the vigil.

The name of the women's group refers to women breaking barriers and bettering their community from the inside, and it's empowering Latina women to do just that.

Women empowering women

Focused on Spanish-speaking immigrant women, Las Promotoras was launched in October 2016 by 20 women in the Latina Leadership Initiative. They've since held three week-long trainings about issues relating to violence against women: domestic violence awareness, sexual violence awareness and stalking awareness.

"The goal is to give these women the tools so they can become advocates for other women to help them get out of violence," Jaramillo said. "It also becomes a place where they can process the issue globally but personally."

One of the group's main focuses is awareness about violence against women, but they also practice leadership and organizing skills. They attended the Women's March and pushed the Pima County Board of Supervisors to pass a stalking-awareness proclamation in January.

Other programs in the Latina Leadership Initiative, which caters to about 160 women a year, include Mi Carrera: professional development training for Spanish-speaking women, and Mi Vida, which focuses on women who have experienced trauma and who have barriers to finding employment, such as not having a Social Security number.

"Mi Vida is all around healing and finding yourself and empowerment through the use of the arts," Jaramillo said.

Partnering with the Tucson Museum of Art, the program enlists artists, poets and musicians to foster creative expression.

Immigrant women who don't have a Social Security number cannot gain legal employment, but they can obtain a tax ID number and start their own business, Jaramillo said: "We help them discover their own skills."

The women can also obtain a scholarship for a two-month Spanish-language business training offered through the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, and receive free business consultation through the YWCA's Women's Business Center.

Ninety-five percent of women who go through the Latina Leadership Initiative programs either find a job, start their own business, return to college or complete a GED program.

"It's not just the curriculum but the support system of the women themselves," Jaramillo said about the high success rate.

Promotoras member Sobeida Salazar said the group and YWCA programs help her relate to women and understand their different points of view. But more than anything, it's strengthened her female friendships and support systems.

"The programs at the Y, for me, has been a fundamental support where I can rise up as a woman," she said in Spanish. "I know that there are more women I can trust and rely on."

Another member Karina Reyes said the programs have helped her educate her community about violence committed against women and to identify and help victims of such violence.

"I'm learning, educating myself, and sharing that with my community," she said in Spanish.

Latina Leadership Initiative and Las Promotoras programming starts back up on Aug. 26.

Upholding desert aid

Poncho Chavez, who works with No More Deaths, said at the vigil that the humanitarian group will not be closing their medical-aid camp near the Mexico border although Border Patrol agents arrested migrants seeking medical aid there on June 15.

"The organization still stands," he said. "We are not going to close."

News outlets reported the camp's temporary shutdown at the end of June, but a July 6 tweet by the group concurred with Chavez, saying they are not closing the camp and will continue attending to those who need help.

The next vigil will be Aug. 3 and every first Thursday of the month after that at El Tiradito Shrine, 420 S. Main Ave.

"It's a beautiful tradition to honor the people who have disappeared and died in the desert," said Promotoras co-facilitator Imelda Esquer. "It's something that we need."

To find out more about Las Promotoras or the Latina Leadership Programs, email Alba Jaramillo at ajaramillo@ywcatucson.org or call her at 884-7810, ext. 108.


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