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‘We’re always stronger when we’re united’: How Lucila Dominquez is creating a better life for immigrant workers

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Lucila Dominguez services the Latino community to create better working conditions for the low-wage workers in Minnesota.

Ten years ago, Lucila Dominguez waved goodbye to an arduous life in rural Mexico. 

The living conditions there had worsened to the point that Dominguez could hardly sustain the basic necessities of life. “The agriculture and everything that we needed to plant and grow, became really expensive,” she said through an interpreter. “We could no longer afford it.”

Subsequently, she chose to pursue a better future in Minnesota, where she first found work cleaning at department stores and restaurants. But her first few years here didn’t meet her expectations of life in the United States. Not only was she overworked and underpaid, working the night-shift cleaning at the department store, but she felt that she was not respected. And when she attempted to complain, she was fired. 

Then she found another cleaning job at a restaurant. At the new job, Dominguez faced another challenge: She had to pay for her cleaning supplies out of her own pocket. 

After a while, Dominguez walked away from that job for another one where she cleaned apartments, only to find another form of mistreatment: “Sometimes, the boss didn’t pay me,” she said. “Other times he would pay me checks that bounced.”

Fighting injustice

Nearly seven years after her arrival in the U.S., Dominguez bounced from one place to another, looking for a job that would treat her fairly. 

In fact, her new life wasn’t all that different from the one she led in Mexico, she explained. She couldn’t send money to her family in Mexico, or pay her rent and other expenses. At times, she had to choose between paying bills and paying for food.

“I grew tired of these constant injustices and constant problems,” she said of those days. “So I decided that instead of continuing to change jobs, I was looking to find a way to change these injustices.”

And she did. 

Dominguez joined Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (Center for Workers United in the Struggle) as a volunteer, and the group eventually hired her as a lead organizer advocating for the rights of minimum-wage immigrant workers in the Latino community.

“The organization talked to me because they saw that I had a passion for this work,” she said. “And they asked me to lead the part of the organization that involves educating the community.” 

Employee rights education

The immigrant communities, Dominguez said, are often misinformed or uninformed about their rights as employees. “They think that they don’t have any rights,” she said. “They think that there’s nothing to be done about these injustices.” 

Through CTUL workshops, Dominguez educates Latino workers about their rights and responsibilities. 

Since she joined CTUL, which shares a space with Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Dominguez said she found her passion in life. “I was fired once I protested alone at my job,” she said. “And I’ve always wanted to be able to unite with many small voices to have a large voice. And I realize that we’re always stronger when we’re united.”

CTUL also focuses on developing leaders and equipping the community with the capacity to speak out and confront those wanting to deny their rights.

Advocating without English

Dominguez doesn’t speak English, but that hasn’t kept her from committing herself to the advocacy of changing laws that don’t benefit marginalized workers.

The youngest of seven siblings, Dominguez has always been outspoken, someone who stood up for what she believed in. “Since my girlhood — and even up to now — I’ve been described as rebellious,” she said. “I was always the one who is protesting against the way things were.”   

And at 43, she’s still protesting today against injustice and fighting for better working conditions for the low-wage Latino communities who may not know how to stand up for their rights.

Dominguez was recently honored, along side other anti-racism local activists, for her effort to end racial inequalities. The Saint Paul Foundation awarded her $10,000 in April as part of the 2015 Facing Race Ambassador Awards to fund her work to end racial disparity in her Latino community.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

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