As part of MoFo’s celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, partner Anthony Ramirez moderated a conversation with Monica Ramirez, activist, author, civil rights attorney, entrepreneur, and public speaker. Monica shared insight into her personal experiences growing up in a migrant farmworker community, which laid the foundation for her current role in providing direct service and advocacy on behalf of farmworkers, Latinas, and immigrant women.
Monica was born and raised, and still lives today, in rural Ohio where her parents settled after spending many decades migrating from Mexico to the United States to pick, pack, and plant fruits and vegetables. Her parents wanted her to understand and appreciate the farmworker’s struggle and their experiences working in the fields, so she became engaged in the community at a young age.
Originally aspiring to be a journalist, Monica began her work as an activist at the age of 14. She shed light on the struggles of farmworkers and their families through writing for her local newspaper, but in the pursuit of wanting to create real change for these people, she ultimately decided to become a lawyer. “Having had the opportunity to meet some lawyers who were working in my community, I thought that what they were doing was very concrete. They saw a problem, and they were then able to figure out if there was anything that could be done about it, and then they would implement the plan to make the change,” said Monica. “For me, that felt like that was a way of actually getting justice and doing something to try and change the bad conditions that I was hearing about from people.”
Monica’s path to becoming a lawyer and practicing law has taught her that not only do people have the power to make decisions to bring about change, but in doing so, it is important to consider the unlikely partnerships along the way. When Monica is asked the question, “Why aren’t you only working with advocates or the community,” she responds with, “It is important that we have a wide view, and even if certain folks are not those people at meetings or part of the coalition, I don’t think we can only take into consideration the perspective of people who we knew are in alignment with us. We need to also understand what other people are thinking and saying, and their challenges that maybe we aren’t thinking about, or from a different angle.”
With this philosophy and Monica’s legal background, she has led various projects and organizations that focus on civil and human rights of immigrant women and farmworkers specifically. Monica founded Justice for Migrant Women, a national advocacy and technical assistance project focused on representing female farmworkers and other low-paid immigrant women who are victims of workplace sexual violence. She is also co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Women Farmworkers), where she created the first legal project in the United States focused on representing women farmworkers in cases involving sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination.
“The way that we do our work is by listening very closely to the community,” Monica stressed. “The lived experiences of the community is brought forward in a way that informs the work to be considered and the way in which we strategize and prioritize.”
Monica also discussed her advocacy for mental health in the workplace, specifically her work to create a mental health project as a result of town hall meetings with farmworkers across the country during the pandemic. It became very apparent that farmworkers, and all working people, had an acute need for greater mental health support to address stressors that exist in the workplace. Monica has been working with the Department of Labor to provide feedback around the issue and to create clear guidelines around mental health. She has helped to convene focus groups with migrant women from various industries who have provided insight. Additionally, she has met with federal and state level officials to frame mental health as a potential occupational health and safety issue, so that as a country we can start to think about, and put into action, programs that provide broader mental health benefits to society.