Veronica Terriquez, a professor of sociology, spoke on civil and immigration rights as well as the influence of grassroots organizations for the last lecture in the What Matters to Me and Why speaker series at the Ground Zero Performance Café on Wednesday.
An L.A. native, Terriquez is the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants but said that she now identifies with the 1 percent — the 1 percent of Latinos with a doctorate. Terriquez received her doctorate in sociology from UCLA and has a background in educational equality and immigrant rights organization efforts.
“What matters to me is supporting social justice causes that fight for equal opportunities for immigrants, for low-income people of color, for gay people, for students here in the United States and the way I do this is through my research and teaching,” Terriquez said. “Specifically, I care about research that informs workers’ rights, immigration reform and student-led efforts for social change.”
Terriquez discussed civil rights history and said the civil rights movement played an important part in opening doors for her and her family. She said she credits Ella Baker, a black civil rights activist, for fueling her passion for grassroots activism. Baker trained students, women and workers in civil and human rights activism for 50 years.
“I realized that much of my work examines her legacy,” Terriquez said. “My work looks at how everyday people — immigrants, workers and youths — employ the grassroots organizing techniques that Baker taught so many people, young and old. She was committed to students who tended to show great courage and steadfast commitment to their cause.”
Citing a historical example, Terriquez said the Watts Riots of 1965 led to greater pressure for integration in labor unions and factories. Her father felt the benefits of integration firsthand when he was allowed to join the United Steelworkers Union.
Terriquez said it meant her family was no longer poor.
As an undergraduate student at Harvard University, Terriquez said she met the real 1 percent and thanks activists before her for the Ivy League opportunity.
“I had the privilege of going to Harvard for my undergrad and I must say that I owe my acceptance into this university in great part to the civil rights movement that fought for racial integration and affirmative action that diversified institutions of higher education,” Terriquez said.
To be a part of a social movement, Terriquez moved to Oakland and became a community organizer. She said there she learned firsthand the impact grassroots organizations have on the community.
One of her first research projects was a Justice for Janitors campaign that fought for fair wages and working conditions for janitors.
“I really care about research that can inform efforts to improve our immigration laws so that they’re fair to everybody,” Terriquez said. “The same opportunities should exist for many of the people who are here and who are undocumented.”
In what Terriquez calls a “nation of immigrants,” immigrant issues of equality, especially in youths, is at the forefront of her mind.
“I’m often moved by the work of students who really are at the vanguard, trying to change the world and trying to make it a better place,” Terriquez said.