Fuerza Unida: Learning to survive

Overcoming adversity is not easy, but for a group of Mexican-American women in San Antonio, adversity was the motivation to start a new way of life. To move forward, the women formed, Fuerza Unida, a living example, they say, that “united strength will never be defeated.”

Note: For the Spanish-language version of this article and video, click here.

On Jan. 15, 1990, Levi Strauss abruptly announced it was closing its San Antonio plant on South Zarzamora and moving the manufacturing operation to Costa Rica. According to Fuerza Unida Executive Director Petra Mata, the move left 1,150 workers unemployed, without pension, medical support and little severance pay. Of those losing their jobs, Mata said, 78 percent were Hispanic women, unskilled workers without high school education facing language barriers.

Instead to playing the role of victims, Mata and the women who had worked at Levi mobilized, and, with the support of many local organizations, founded Fuerza Unida, a non-profit organization dedicated to work for and with the community.

Located at 710 New Laredo Hwy.  on the South Side of San Antonio, Fuerza Unida is a community center, a women’s leadership center, a sewing cooperative and a catering business. However, the founders say the group's  principal mission is to empower workers, especially woman, to fight injustice and defend their rights through education, social work and advocacy.

After 20 years, Fuerza Unida is still a strong organization in San Antonio. The women participate actively in almost every march or protest in our community to advocate for workers. Fuerza Unida provides jobs for displaced garment workers and elderly women, and the group provides food and groceries for low-income families.

Watch the video below to learn the history, role and work of the Fuerza Unida organization, through interviews with Mata and Program Director Viola Casares.

To find more information about Fuerza Unida, call (210) 927-2294 or visit http://lafuerzaunida.org/History.htm.