Theory of Change
At the Brazilian Worker Center, we work with immigrant workers – both men and women. We were founded by immigrant workers, and almost all our board and staff come from the community that we serve and organize. Most of them are or have been immigrant workers themselves. Most of our Brazilian immigrant community here in Massachusetts – the largest Brazilian community in the United States – are grateful for the opportunity to be in a place where they can find gainful employment, and relative economic and physical security for their families. Most can easily compare their situation here in the United States quite favorably with what they left behind in Brazil, and that is why they have made the sacrifices to migrate here in the first place, and to put down roots. They are parents of tens of thousands of American children right here in Massachusetts.
There are several interconnected arms of our work with this community, encompassing organizing, services, education, research, and policy advocacy, and we are active in each of them. All these lines of engagement work in close tandem with one another.
Our constituents tend to come to us at the Center on occasions when they are in crisis in their lives, most often involving exploitation or abuse by employers, landlords, business people, the police, or ICE. These occasions happen more frequently than they usually expect, and they result in severe economic, social, and emotional damage. We use these occasions, when workers come to us asking support, to help them with advice and intervention to solve their problems, through mediation, direct collective actions, or taking legal action on their behalf – but to also educate them about their rights and what they can do to assert them on their own when they are violated. We use services, in other words, as a tool for education and organizing.
We stress the need for immigrant workers to learn skills in leadership and civic engagement, not only on our own behalf, but in collaboration with others who are – like us - advocating for more socially just conditions of life. We train workers in leadership development, ESOL, computer literacy, public speaking, state and federal laws and regulations regarding work, OSHA workplace safety and health protections, research skills, processes and traditions of government and civic life in the United States, and how to organize others in the places where we all live and work. This way we can develop tools to advocate for ourselves and others on our own, understanding it is our responsibility to teach our acquired skills to others who do not already have them. It is important also for all of us to learn to interrogate public policy, investigate its effectiveness through participating in the many policy research projects we carry out in collaboration with local universities, and understand how democratic processes and our own engagement in them can effect genuine policy and social change. Since a natural response of many immigrants is to define their problems as private woes, and to try to keep a low profile as newcomers and strangers to U.S. communities, and not make waves, our work to sensitize them to their important public responsibility takes genuine organizing and education. As members of the community ourselves, we have the cultural and linguistic skills to do this in a way that reaches our constituents, and we have ourselves gone through this sometimes challenging learning process.
We work hard to teach our community that miscarriages of justice are rarely only about them personally, and that political engagement most fundamentally carries a commitment to improving justice for all members of our community. It is in the end only through systemic change that our own problems can be solved. As immigrant workers and newcomers it is essential for us to embrace this engagement with public responsibility, so that it can inform the fabric of everyday life where we work, live, worship, and send our children to school. Our responsibility, of course, is much broader than simple partisanship and voting for candidates in electoral contests. As mostly non-citizens, our constituents are in fact usually not eligible to vote, but they still can and do play important political roles in effecting positive change in their communities – for the benefit of all. At the Brazilian Worker Center, we recognize that immigrants, and how they are treated by the economy and the society, are the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine” where the well-being of democracy and justice – for everyone, immigrant and non-immigrant alike – is concerned. We struggle to keep all of us canaries alive and prospering.