For Beatriz Ambermann of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), organizing for political power is about connection and community across time and space. Since 2001, VACOLAO has been leading successful campaigns to change the lived reality of Latinx communities across Virginia, achieving important wins such as the state’s adoption of driver privilege cards, in-state tuition for students regardless of documentation status, Medicaid coverage for oral health services, and the creation of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board by Governor Mark Warner.
To guide her work and her vision of the future, Beatriz looks to the example of her ancestors, who lived lives of connectedness and care in their communities.
“My great-grandmother used to wake up early every morning to prepare food to feed the migrants who were coming through her rural village,” she says. “My parents would collect blankets and toys to distribute to the community. My husband is a retired doctor who served people who were homeless and uninsured.”
From her ancestors, Beatriz has learned to both adapt to the issues and circumstances that impact the Latinx community in the here and now, and to build coalitions for long-term change. While VACOLAO is rooted in the Latinx community, they collaborate with everyone, understanding that a culture of competition and scarcity only benefits those in power who seek to divide communities from one another.
“It is a distraction,” she says. “The system wants us to be in competition with each other, so it tells us that our neighbor is the ‘other.’”
A critical component of VACOLAO’s work is building community by connecting people to their culture. In 2023 they are working with partners to host cultural events, one of which will include the Mexican Ambassador and the Mexican Cultural Institute. Beatriz herself used to dance with a Mexican performing troupe, and through that experience she learned the value of teamwork.
“There are times to take solos and shine, but the majority of the time you are focusing on everybody else,” she says. She understands her experience as a dancer to be analogous to the way VACOLAO connects with Latinx leaders across the state in common work. “You have to put ego aside and work for the common good, the well-being of the entire community. That is much more satisfying and effective!”
Beatriz believes that creating spaces for communication and dialogue around common needs and desires can break down barriers. “We all want to live in peaceful communities, we want well-paying jobs, to be healthy, to have good schools. We have to engage in constructive conversations and find ways to interact and know one another.”
She is inspired when she sees young people stepping up and learning to take leadership in the community. VACOLAO hosted an Advocacy Day during the last General Assembly session that brought out nearly 100 people, a majority of whom were young. For Beatriz, it is critical that the wisdom of her ancestors continue to guide the movement going forward, and the organizing energy that she is seeing among the youth gives her hope.