Latina immigrant women gather daily in MUA’s San Francisco and Oakland offices to discuss the urgent issues of the day: immigration laws that change seemingly overnight; increasingly widespread unemployment and denials of basic workers’ rights; and cutbacks in the education, healthcare and social service systems. With their children playing nearby, MUA members share stories of how this political context has led to family tensions, increases in domestic violence, and varied fears about the future. This scene is similar to others being played out across the Bay Area and around the country -- as immigrant communities face unprecedented attacks and as immigrant women bear the brunt of these numerous affronts. In MUA, however, the scene is different. While discussing their concerns, MUA members are simultaneously building alternatives—healing themselves and each other, learning to organize and speak out, developing new economic development strategies, and raising a clear voice from the grassroots that Latina immigrant women are a powerful force for change.
MUA is one of the few programs founded on the concept that immigrant women themselves are uniquely equipped to find solutions to the problems that most directly affect their lives. While recognizing the formidable problems faced by Latina immigrant women, MUA draws on the strengths of these same women as peer mentors, group facilitators, community educators, and organizers. With this philosophy in mind, MUA adopts a multi-layered program approach to Latina immigrant empowerment, leadership, and activism which includes the following elements:
- Mutual Support Meetings that provide a space for women to tell their own stories in a safe and confidential environment and receive support from other women who have had similar life experiences.
- Informational Workshops on a variety of topics including immigrant rights, domestic violence, women’s health issues, and parents’ rights in the public school system that help more than seventy-five women gain critical information each week.
- Counseling, Referrals, and Crisis Intervention Services that prioritize a peer-to-peer model through which specially trained MUA members provide Clinicas del Alma counseling sessions to their peers and offer referrals to culturally appropriate service partners. MUA's Peer Counselors have been certified as Domestic Violence counselors and as Sexual Assault Crisis Counselors. In 2010, MUA launched the first immigrant staffed Spanish language sexual assault crisis line, ALMA ( 415-431-ALMA) in the San Francisco Bay Area in collaboration with SFWAR. MUA also partners with ESP in Hayward to ensure that Spanish speaking survivors of domestic violence receive the services they need. MUA's peer-counseling model is complimented by professional therapy offered in collaboration with Instituto Familiar de la Raza, the Southeast Child/Family Therapy Center, and individual therapists.
- Caring Hands Workers’ Association (“Manos Cariñosas”), a multi-service workers’ center that provides job training and placement as home health care and childcare providers and housecleaners, a workers’ association through which members learn to negotiate contracts, build their skills, and present themselves to employers, and workers’ rights campaigns that teach immigrant women how to advocate for themselves.
- “Leadership and Unity for Community Empowerment,” an intensive course that deepens the political education and develops the leadership and organizing skills of Latina immigrant women.
- Community Campaigns to address immigrant rights and social justice issues on the local, state, and national levels. MUA's central organizing campaign currently focuses on demanding respect and winning labor protections on the state, national, and international levels for household workers. MUA is also involved in a variety of coalitions advocating for immigrant rights and just immigration reform.
- Technical Assistance to share some of the key lessons learned through MUA’s history and to develop the capacity of grassroots immigrant women’s groups in other parts of the country.