It was a night of art, music, food and sharing of accomplishments and support.
The Worker’s Justice Project, an organization that fights for immigrant workers’ rights, hosted “Our Voice, Our Stories,” an event for immigrant workers to show off their artwork and other talents, on June 29 at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights.
“Latinas bring a cultural wealth — not just work,” Worker’s Justice Project Director Ligia Guallpa said. “You see their faces not only as immigrants, but also as talented.”
Several Jackson Heights immigrant artists displayed and sold their artwork. One such artist with a touching story is Rogelio Ronco, a dialysis patient with a knack for art.
“I have no life besides this,” Ronco said.
Ronco was born in Mexico and began to draw when he turned 5 years old. He moved to New York City as a teenager and in 2008 found out he had kidney failure; however, because of his illegal status, his chances of getting a transplant are slim, he said.
“It’s really hard to get on the list and that’s what I need,” Ronco said. “I am not holding up my hopes.”
He undergoes dialysis three times a week and uses painting as his escape as well as a way to survive — selling his art to pay for his bills.
His brightly colored, acrylic pieces depict a bipolar sort of emotion, he said. Teetering between happiness and melancholy because of his poor health, he often “lives in sadness,” he said.
Another artist at the show is Luz Orrego, who knits and sews. Orrego helped clean up the debris from 9/11. Since the cleanup she has had trouble breathing and now takes medication for a blocked septum.
“My art makes me feel relaxed,” Orrego said, adding she sells some of her works, especially around Christmas.
Other artists showing off their skills were porcelain artist InÈs Pelaez and marimba musician Marina Diaz.
These talents were accompanied by a traveling exhibit on loan from the National Day Laborer Network. The art, titled Alto Arizona, includes posters protesting Arizona’s stanch policy against illegal immigrants.
Women from Apple Eco-friendly Cleaning were there to enjoy the art, raffle off prizes and share their stories. The cleaning co-op started about eight months ago with help from the Worker’s Justice Project.
It’s composed of five women who worked as day laborers. They would stand on a corner in Williamsburg and wait for someone to give them a cleaning or construction job. However the pay was poor and the work inconsistent.
“I don’t think it’s right how they treat us and how the men look at us on the corner,” co-op member Yesenia Bucio said.
She spoke to the audience on last Thursday night about how when she moved to the United Sates she worked in a factory for a little more than $300 per 80-hour week. Now she makes up to $200 a day.
The co-op makes all the products members use by ordering bulk, environmentally friendly products and creating the soaps and cleaners in the women’s apartments. They use these products when they go to a cleaning job. They don’t find this work from the corner. Through a website and Facebook page they are starting to amass clients, mostly from Manhattan.
The women also do community outreach — educating people about how the products are safer for their families as well as sharing their personal stories.
“This lets people know first and foremost that you are human beings,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said.