Senior and co-founder of Poets Organizing Workers’ Economic Rights (POWER) Andrea Perez can be seen shouting passionately into a megaphone to the beat of cheering fellow activists. When El Super workers needed support to unionize, Perez brought awareness to our campus. When Whittier College Flagship workers lost their jobs, she was right there front and center, leading other student-activists in the fight for economic justice.
Perez has been fighting for human rights since she was a child. In 2006, Perez was just 11 years old when she walked out of class to attend her first protest, a march for immigration rights with her mother.
“As a kid, I soon realized, as I stood with the millions fighting for a place in this country, that this was something bigger than me,” Perez said excitedly. “It was a really emotional experience, and it was one that was really enlightening and oddly spiritual. I realized that history was something I needed to understand myself and what being an American means.”
When Perez chose to attend Whittier College, she was unsure of what major to pursue, but after taking a couple of classes with Professor of History Robert Marks and Associate Professor of HistoryJosé Orozco, her misconceptions about history as a discipline changed. “I thought history was just about a bunch of dead white men and knowing about certain figures, about chronology,” she explained. “Now I realize that a lot of our identities and a lot of the issues we have in the world come from our history. I realized that if it has the power to destroy, it has the power to also heal us.”
Perez’s love for humanity and history motivates her to pursue socio-political change. “History became about human voices and things that mattered to me,” Perez said with a wide-eyed grin. “We see a lot of parallelisms with everything that is happening with the Muslim ban. They are facing a lot of persecution just as Latinos have. I believe that by looking to history that we can find solutions.”
Throughout her four years at Whittier, Perez has participated in more than one hundred picket lines, protests, and actions that have helped support the labor rights of local union members and campaigns. Her work has helped facilitate the unionization of hospitality workers and Whittier’s own Bon Appétit and Flagship janitorial workers. She has also helped as a crisis support counselor for teens who have gone through the trauma of sexual and domestic violence for a non-profit organization called Peace over Violence.
The desire to provide a more inclusive community inspired Perez to start POWER. “During my first year, I would do what would make me most comfortable, which was to go to the Spot or the cafeteria and speak Spanish to the workers because it was the only space where I felt that I could,” Perez explained. “A lot of us forget that our maintenance workers and cafeteria workers are part of our Poet community, too. But we can’t [forget them] because they are the ones that clean our restrooms. They are the ones that make our food. They take care of me and students in ways that my parents used to when I lived at home.”
As an activist for immigration and labor rights, Perez has helped families gain their citizenship at a legal law office, and has helped teach leadership and labor organizing skills with organizers across Los Angeles through non-profit union campaigns, such as UNITE HERE!
In the summer of ‘16, she interned as a Ziegler Young Religious Leader for an organization called Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). There, she helped organize and recruit clergy members across all denominations, bringing hope and offering blessings to delegations and action events. This year, Perez was awarded the Davis Putter Scholarship Fund grant in recognition of her contributions to her community.
As someone who is majoring in history with an emphasis in Latin American studies and minoring in Religious studies, Perez has decided to focus her senior paper on the history and Latina organizing strategies adopted by the Mothers of East LA. It is a topic that has hit close to home for Perez. “It is fascinating to analyse the roles that identity as a Latina play in their activism,” Perez said. “Catholicism and cultural symbols, such as motherhood, help to to politicize moral issues, such as the state prison system and environmental justice.”
After college, Perez sees herself continuing her activism within the labor movement and promoting immigration reform. She hopes to attend graduate school to pursue a Master’s in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and eventually go on to become a professor andto write books on labor within Latin America.
“I want to continue building relationships and bridges between different peoples, especially those who Trump has targeted,” Perez said. “I want to recreate a more loving community, especially in this moment in history, where we are all able to relate and empathize on a very human level that demonstrates a sort of silent resistance.”