Won’t Back Down

Two of Nuestra Casa’s Promotora team members

For smart, creative, and industrious people in East Palo Alto, working 60+ hours per week and living in poverty is more than a problem; it’s a community in crisis. Along the city’s border, traffic-clogged Highway 101 stands as a bitter divide between those the American Dream has touched, and those who still long for it.

For 17 years, the team at Nuestra Casa has been dreaming of an East Palo Alto where every resident has the dignity and comfort of a place to call home, a living wage, and the same opportunities as the community across the highway. Shares Executive Director Miriam Yupanqui, “We exist to uplift Latino families in East Palo Alto and the mid-peninsula. Through our innovative programs and services we do everything we can to address their immediate needs and long-term opportunities—quality education, jobs with living wages and upward mobility, clean drinking water and quality air to breathe, and stable housing.”

One of the unintended consequences of the economic prosperity in the technology sector is the increasingly untenable cost of living in the Bay Area. “Driving through the streets of East Palo Alto every day, I am able to see displacement via homeless families who live in RV’s, and 2-3 families who are forced to live in a one-bedroom apartment,” Yupanqui says. These Latino families, who can’t afford Internet service and must make sacrifices to feed, house, and protect their families, keep Yupanqui awake at night.

“These women are the champions of our community. It is crucial that we continue to invest in their professional development.”

Born in Mexico and raised in East Palo Alto from the age of 4, Yupanqui grew up in a lively house on Pulgas Street. During her first years in the U.S., her family rented a room from her aunt. Finances were tight and her parents wanted to save to buy their own home. “As a child, I thought it was ‘normal’ for 3-4 families to share a house and for parents to hold 2-3 jobs to make ends meet,” she remembers. “Back then, you could have a minimum-wage job—well, a few of these jobs—working in janitorial or restaurants, and still save enough to buy a house in a few years. How can it be that today we are confronting potentially even greater economic distresses than our parents did?”

“Despite the unprecedented prosperity of Silicon Valley that surrounds East Palo Alto, Fair Oaks, and Belle Haven, very little of that abundant prosperity and opportunity reaches our communities,” Yupanqui continues. Through Nuestra Casa’s programs and services, she and her passionate colleagues are committed to ensuring that families have a fighting chance. Yupanqui explains, “What if our community had equal access to business opportunities in Silicon Valley? We ask ourselves these questions every day as we grapple with the extreme housing crisis. Yes, we need policy solutions. Yes, we need more affordable housing options. But our adults and families also need the opportunity to build wealth to help close the housing gap.”

Nuestra Casa’s Promotora Team is comprised of female community outreach professionals—women with their pulse on community issues who work to address emerging needs and crises as they occur in real time. “These women are the champions of our community,” Yupanqui says. “It is crucial that we continue to invest in their professional development.”

For many area residents, even modest dreams can seem out of reach. Yupanqui relates, “It’s very hard for new immigrants to our country to unlock the opportunities they came here for. It’s all too obvious when we drive past the trailers that line Bay Road and know whole families are living there, barely scraping by. Or when we hear that one in four school children in the Ravenswood school district is homeless. When Latino parents have the support and tools to access critical services and flex their inherent leadership, they will transform our schools, public institutions, and community in 2020 and beyond.”

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Nuestra Casa team members in front of Bell Street Park mural in East Palo Alto

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