Juan has been an organizer in low-income communities for over twenty years, working across lines of race, class, issue, organization and ego to foster the leadership of those who face multiple forms of oppression — whether organizing to take on massive corporations, unaccountable slumlords or negligent government bodies.
Most recently, Juan has been helping the residents of rent-stabilized buildings in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City hold on to their homes. Juan and the organization he directs, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio are currently fighting a realty company which is intimidating residents of the few remaining rent-stabilized buildings in East Harlem and the South Bronx by demanding proof of citizenship, passports and pay stubs in order to try to seize their apartments, clearing the way for developers to charge the higher rents attached to the luxury high-rises popping up in low-income, high-immigrant urban zip codes in New York and across the country. Fifteen immigrant mothers started the Movement for Justice in El Barrio in 2004 to fight against large corporations that bought out parts of East Harlem and were attempting to force immigrant tenants to move.
Juan was the lead organizer of the NYC Restaurant Opportunities Center’s successful campaign to raise the minimum wage and to get tipped workers included in the minimum wage. During this campaign, as in all of his organizing efforts, Juan has insisted that workers take the lead by doing the speaking, the negotiations and the decision-making. As one of activists he has mentored describes: “The people Juan organizes typically work 16-hour days, seven day a week. So, sometimes they will say ‘Let’s do whatever you think’. But Juan always insists that the workers make their own decisions. So if they miss a meeting, he’ll call them late at night to fill them in. He really cares about the process and as a result, the people he works with are really empowered.”
Most of the members of the Movement for Justice in El Barrio are recent migrants from Latin America and Juan describes the organization’s mission in global terms: “Being immigrants, we know that the political and economic system that forced us from our country is the same one that now wants to displace us from our homes, but we struggle against multinational corporations, against politicians and ‘those from above,’ and we are organized so that this does not happen.”