NEW YORK CITY – For her role as a driving force for immigrant worker’s rights, Filipino American union leader Maria Castaneda was honored at the 2015 New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) awards gala in New York City Tuesday night.
The NYIC is a policy and advocacy group that serves as a political vehicle for immigrant rights and empowerment.
“Everyday of my job is really fulfilling. I like working with people, I like empowering them, I like educating people,” she said. “It’s not just fight, fight, fight. In fact, we are doing a more collaborative partnership that promote the well being of our members at the same time promote quality care.”
Born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, Maria came to the US in 1984.
She became a volunteer organizer for the Philippine Center for Immigrant Rights organization before she was hired by the 1199 SEIU labor union as an organizer – her very first job in the US and she kept it for years.
Thirty years later, she now holds the second highest position at the largest local union in the world, representing over 400,000 workers from Massachusetts to the District of Columbia.
She’s been elected the Secretary-Treasurer of 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East twice since 2007.
“So we really want to choose leaders who have made a real difference, who have had a huge impact this past year,” NYIC Executive Director Steven Choi said. “I think Maria Castaneda really fits the bill, not only has she become the foremost Asian American woman labor leader in the United States, she also has been a champion for immigrant rights, for worker rights. It’s really important to recognize that.”
Castaneda says immigrant rights is at the forefront of her mission.
“I just want to use my organization, my position, to inspire other Filipinos, other women, other workers to step up because we have so much to do as immigrants,” she said. “We have to win immigration reform.”
The comprehensive immigration reform bill as well as Pesident Obama’s executive actions on immigration are all on hold. But Castaneda says she remains hopeful.
“Yes it is frustrating because the DACA and DAPA are really good for the community, giving immigrants the rights to have work authorization. It’s really good for the community,” she said.
NYIC’s Thanu Yakupitiyage said, “We hope for the next president to do is to really push forward an immigration reform platform. We did not see that happen in the last eight years. But this issue is not going away. We have a broken immigration system.”
Castaneda says as she accepts this recognition, she plans to continue to fight for immigrant rights because she believes that it will not only help the economy, it will also raise the living standards for all working people in the US.
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