MEDA’s Community Leadership Development Manager Lucia Obregon was just appointed to the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission (IRC). Created a quarter century back, the purpose of the IRC is to advise the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on issues and policies related to immigrants who live or work in San Francisco.
Lucia deeply understands immigrants’ rights: She exhibits empathy for newcomers, having emigrated from Guatemala at the age of 11. Lucia then became a U.S. citizen around five years ago.
MEDA’s Christopher Gil sat down with Lucia to learn why she wanted to be part of the commission, and what she envisions her role at the IRC will be moving forward.
CG: Congratulations on your new role to the IRC. What were you feeling when you heard you had been appointed?
LO: I was relieved and excited when I heard I had been appointed. It was an interesting experience because there is vulnerability in having to share your personal story — and in just two minutes. I was so lucky to have 12 community members testify on my behalf, also sharing parts of my story. Additionally, I was so humbled to have received 20 letters of support from a diverse group of colleagues, friends, San Francisco nonprofits, BLM organizers, the LGBTQAI+ community, mutual-aid organizations, arts & cultural groups, and even folks outside the Bay Area.
[You can watch Lucia’s testimony, for Seat #10, starting @ 2:40 here.]
This will be my first time in public service, although it was a natural transition because I have been acting as a public servant — inside and outside of MEDA — for many years. I see myself as a servant-leader, determining how I can best serve my community. This is another avenue in my work.
CG: What has your experience as an immigrant to the United States been like? How does that inform the lens you bring to your new role?
LO: I came to the U.S. as an 11-year-old with my mom. We had one great-aunt here, but had left behind my dad, two uncles, one aunt and eight cousins — basically all of my extended family. Once in California, I had what I would say is the typical experience of an immigrant child coming here. We settled in the Central Valley town of Turlock, which was a big change. I came from a city in Central America that was similar to the hustle of San Francisco, so being around farms and suburbs was new to me, although I definitely felt a sense of stability. Turlock has a large Mexican immigrant population, so I immersed myself in that culture. My mom’s best friend, who used to watch me, is Mexican. Many other immigrant groups had settled in Turlock, so having that diversity is what supported me.
I was lucky enough to speak English already, so I was able to help my mom, who was a monolingual Spanish speaker. For instance, I had to fill out my own school registration forms. Mom and I didn’t become citizens until about five years ago. I know the citizenship pathway — the amount of time, knowledge and money it takes to get there.
CG: What is the main role of the commissioners?
LO: The role of the IRC is to recommend or speak on any City ordinance or policy that impacts immigrants’ rights and their inclusion in our democracy. Five of the 11 seats are now held by someone Latinx, with myself being one of a trio of LGBTQ Latinx members. I am honored to join Sarah Souza, who was just appointed as the first Dreamer on the IRC, based on Prop C that passed last November, the new San Francisco law that allows non-citizens to run for commissions and advisory Boards.
CG: How often are meetings held, and can you describe what a typical meeting’s agenda might look like?
LO: Meetings are held a month and are open to the public. The agenda varies, but always centers on what ordinance or specific issue is important at the moment to the immigrant community. (Sample agenda).
CG: What do you hope for the impact of the IRC during COVID-19 and for an equitable recovery in 2022 and beyond?
LO: My #1 priority is that immigrants have a chance at an equitable recovery. They have been disproportionately affected, so they should be offered access to all services anyone else has. After all, these immigrant workers have been a major part of the population providing essential services during the pandemic.
My #2 priority is to advocate nationally for immigrant reform to create viable pathways to citizenship. This should be considered part of pandemic recovery as well. Immigrants bear the brunt of the essential labor and this crisis has made that more than apparent. Immigrants deserve the same rights as any citizen.
CG: What words of hope can you offer the immigrant community of San Francisco?
LO: For many years, we have talked about how resilient our immigrant community is, but I want our community to know that it’s time to go from resilience to thriving. We are more than resiliency. We are a force. We are an economic power. We are the labor that keeps this country running and represent 47 million people in the United States. Our efforts are being recognized as powering our economy locally, statewide and nationally. We have been living in fear for far too long. It’s our time to be visible and come out of the shadows.