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Mujeres Unidas Quinceanera


The grassroots organization, Mujeres Unidas (that’s Spanish for Women United)is celebrating its 15th birthday this week. In a Hispanic woman’s life, her 15th birthday is her most important; it’s the day she joins the community as a full adult member. In Spanish, this celebration is known as Quinceanera (keen-say-ahn-yar’-uh) – a tradition that dates back to the Aztecs.

When Mujeres Unidas formed fifteen years ago, many Hispanics in the Red River Valley – as elsewhere – were facing a very difficult transition. As migrant workers, they had traveled north each summer for decades, often working on the same farms where their parents had worked. Now, new technology was replacing farm workers with chemical sprayers and other machinery. Without their seasonal jobs, migrants were forced to find alternative work. For those who got full-time work, the tradition of moving back south at the end of the growing season disappeared. Instead, families started settling in, and their children started going to school full-time – something that had never occurred before.

As in other areas of the country, Hispanic families in Fargo-Moorhead had a tough time adjusting to life as a minority. Many adolescents confronted racial biases in school. Some acted out their frustrations, and violence sometimes erupted. Many Hispanic students dropped out of school in favor of jobs that could help their families survive, and without educations, these young workers were caught in a life-long cycle of poverty.

A number of Hispanic women in Moorhead wanted to see things change. Their goal, in writing, states: Our Mission as Hispanic, Latina and Chicana women is to educate and empower ourselves in making decisions which create positive, effective changes in breaking the cycle of racism, poverty, and oppression which affects ourselves, our families, and our community.

They had no budget to speak of, but they were tough – survivors. Not only did they want to improve their own lives, they wanted to change things for their children, especially their daughters. Mujeres Unidas set out to learn about finances, and how help their children graduate from high school – and then from college. They met with officials and school personnel to learn how to apply for college and how to get financial aid. They held educational workshops and raised money to pay for SAT tests. They helped find employment for their participants, and they encouraged their young women to be proud of their roots, their rich ethnic heritage. After some early success, Mujeres Unidas learned how to become a non-profit organization so they could receive private donations. They learned how to apply for grants and how to run their business on a shoestring.

Mujeres Unidas has measured its success one woman at a time. Slowly, young Latinas began to graduate and go on to college – then graduate from college. Many now fill key positions in the organization. In January 2003, the Moorhead Human Rights Commission recognized their hard work when they gave Human Rights Awards to Hilda Acevedo, Amy Cerna, Bianca Mendez, Belinda Rendon and Dezi Gonzalez, ages 17 to 21. This year, the YWCA named Mujeres Unidas “Woman of the Year” in the category of “Organization which most Empowers Women.”

Their budget is small, but their vision is great. Mujeres Unidas is now starting “The Latino Parents Association for School Change,” and they’re searching for a permanent building for their programs. For those people who would attend the Quinceanera celebration, Mujeres Unidas is holding a community dinner tomorrow from 6-10 pm at the Hjemkomst Center. Tickets are $3.00, with proceeds going toward their youth programs and toward starting a cultural exhibition fund at the Hjemkomst.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm