SAN ANTONIO - Back in 1990 San Antonio's Levi Strauss plant on the South Side closed down, leaving hundreds without work. Many of them were women. But out of that loss they found a new calling and "Fuerza Unida" was born. Today the group empowers women and celebrates a dream soon to come true: their own line of jeans.
“This is the dream of Fuerza Unida the ‘pantalones de mezclilla’ -- the jeans,” explains executive director Petra Mata while having a hard time holding back her tears. “The jeans mean more than a simple pair of pants. These are the jeans of justice.”
Viola Caseres is Fuerza Unida Program Director, and she too speaks about justice and how this group of women, among many community programs, help educate their own, offer job training, a food pantry and above all empower the women of San Antonio, young and old.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Esmeralda Baltazar is one of those young women, and the group Planning and Development Director. Baltazar says these women have brought her back to her roots, her “cultura” she says. Here -at Fuerza Unida- she adds, she is reminded of things her grandmother taught her, like how to cook tamales or sew.
“It’s a place where I don’t forget to speak Spanish. Where it’s okay to speak Span-glish,” she says.
These feelings, Esmeralda proudly shares, inspire her to make Fuerza Unida a better place for the future and her community. And the dream of making their own jeans may just be the dream they desperately need to come true, to make a difference.
But these jeans are only a prototype. To produce them, Fuerza Unida needs a new building, modern machinery, funding and eventually a retailer to endorse the project. Yet these women are not giving up. A fashion show and fundraiser is planned for next September in hopes to find the community support they need.
“Esto es parte de la justicia.” It is part of the justice says Mata and adds, “For the workers... Si se puede.”
Yes, we can she says.
Learn more about Fuerza Unida at lafuerzaunida.org