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Organizing for immigrant justice: A Q&A with ÓRALE’s Gaby Hernandez

Gaby Hernandez

Gaby Hernandez, Executive Director of ÓRALE

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we are highlighting one of the women-led organizations that we have the privilege of supporting: ÓRALE, a grantee-partner of Irvine’s Better Careers initiative. We spoke to Gaby Hernandez, Executive Director of ÓRALE, about her leadership, the different programs the organization offers, and what gives her hope.  

The views and opinions expressed below are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The James Irvine Foundation. Responses were edited for length and clarity. 

Briefly tell us about the work of ÓRALE. What does your organization do and why?   

Formerly known as Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, ÓRALE (Organizing Rooted in Abolition, Liberation and Empowerment) is proudly an im/migrant, BIPOC, women-led organization, committed to embodying transformative justice principles that we know, we, and our communities, so rightly deserve. For 16 years, we have been building a thriving immigrant movement, centered on the justice, empowerment, and healing of BIPOC immigrants in California.   

ÓRALE organizes for the dignity, health justice, and intergenerational power of immigrants and undocumented BIPOC in California, with a focus in Long Beach while also working in concert with the national movement for immigrant justice. We work to ensure that immigrants, especially low-income, undocumented families, have access to life-affirming services that support dignified health justice, health interventions, and care. And we mobilize and organize for widespread, transformative systemic change locally, statewide, and nationally.

What led you to this work? 

My work is rooted in community healing and health, with the goal of abolishing the criminalization of immigrants of color, fortifying community health, and securing opportunities for immigrant communities to thrive. This stems from my experience of coming to this country when I was 12 and navigating life as an undocumented woman for more than 20 years. I try to braid the world of intersectionality, knowing that the lives of immigrants are complex, multifaceted, and deserving of dignity.

Gaby Hernandez, Executive Director of ORALE.
Gaby Hernandez, Executive Director of ÓRALE. Photo credit: ÓRALE.

What challenges, stereotypes, or biases do you face as a woman and as a Latina leader in this work? How do you address them? 

As an undocumented woman of color in leadership, I face the unfortunate typical stereotypes many women-identifying folks face in a patriarchal society. But, I also face another set of challenges as an undocumented woman. I get comments like, “You should go back to your country,” but I stay rooted in my purpose and show up in all spaces as my most authentic and unapologetic self. I carry with me all the knowledge and wisdom from my lived experience and ancestral roots to fight for justice for my community.  

How about ÓRALE? How does your organization address the unique needs of immigrant women, particularly those who are undocumented? 

ÓRALE is informed by diverse immigrant communities that co-plan the path forward for an immigrant justice agenda that is both transformational and equitable. Our current Power Building programming for BIPOC immigrant families focuses on learning how to organize, which includes lessons on community organizing strategies, and strengthening political consciousness. These learning goals allow community members to build their power in impacted immigrant communities to shift systems of oppression in their communities and foster connection, alignment, and strategic visioning.  

Our Leadership Academy, which is of 90% women, educates and trains community leaders and directly impacted individuals to build organizing power. They learn how to shift resources and power away from  systems of punishment to conditions and systems that support BIPOC immigrants’ capacity to lead full, dignified lives with the material resources, connections, and  eco-political infrastructure necessary for communities to truly thrive. Community members engage and mobilize for campaigns that directly impact their quality of life and access to safety net programs like Food4All and Health4All campaigns.  

In addition to advocating for statewide policy changes to provide undocumented Californians access to healthcare, we also created a health justice branch. This branch utilizes a whole-person approach toward delivering health justice programming that includes diverse healing practices like sound baths and yoga, as well as mutual aid food distributions. This work addresses the harms of racial capitalism, mitigating the harm of environmental degradation experienced by undocumented immigrants who are unable to access safety net programs such as unemployment benefits, MediCal, and CalFresh.  

As the Executive Director of ÓRALE, what makes you hopeful or optimistic about this work? 

I’m really hopeful about the power that is being built within our communities; it’s a flaming power that will not be tamed because it is rooted in justice for all. Additionally, I’m really optimistic about the Economic Justice work we are launching through our Economic Liberation Project. This work will provide undocumented folks, most of them undocumented women, with the guidance and tools they need to thrive as entrepreneurs and achieve financial stability and security.  

Lastly, what does Women’s History month mean to you? 

I believe that women, including trans and non-binary folks, should be celebrated daily because we all pour so much love and intention into our communities. At the same time, I’m excited to have women elevated during this month because, for me, the moment is ripe to elevate women of color who are making progress in immigrant justice and other social justice movements.   

As a leader, my work is informed by intersectionality and liberatory principles. This leadership style comes at a formidable and unprecedented moment that can serve as a catalyst for change. Radical organizing calls for radical funding and  a community-based philanthropic approach that’s anchored in collective liberation, transformative healing justice, and accountability to change. Lastly, I want to end this with a quote by the powerful and impactful writer and poet, Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,” this includes all women in Palestine and the entire Global South; this is what Women’s History month means to me. 

Masthead photo credit: ÓRALE