For Pedro Freire (Class of 2022, MALS) the journey has been long from South America to Connecticut to CUNY to California—and often arduous. But now he can see how all his experiences, good and bad, have brought him here, to the University of California Riverside Ph.D. program in ethnic studies.
“I came to the US with my parents when I was four, from Ecuador. My father was an aviation technician and my mother was a cook for the Ecuadorian embassy. Back in the ‘80s there was a neoliberal restructuring of the economy and the airlines got privatized. Austerity and privatization, typical appendages of neoliberal capitalism, worsened the economy and my parents decided to emigrate to the United States. We made the huge move first to Queens, NY, then my father got hired by a printing press and we moved to Connecticut.”
“Growing up undocumented was tough,” Pedro admitted. “I’ve met a lot of people who are undocumented and are struggling—not being able to get IDs or a driver’s license—so I can understand what they are going through. There’s a lot of anxiety, bordering on depression. But at the same time, I feel kind of privileged to have the opportunity to have DACA status and not be fearful of ICE or deportation. Of course, DACA folks also lack access to certain social services and aid such as food stamps or financial aid for students for instance.”
Pedro paused. “On second thought, maybe privilege isn’t the best choice of words. There is a bit of dystopic irony here, that one would resort to calling the prospect of not being detained and deported by ICE a privilege. Maybe I’m just jumbling words, but what I’m trying to say is that even though I’m in a more privileged position than fellow undocumented folks, DACA still serves no long-term pathway to citizenship and those without DACA are in an even more precarious predicament. If it were up to me, militarized borders wouldn’t be a thing and the free flow of migration would not be restricted, but the imperialist capitalist world system won’t allow that.”
“Many immigrants must deal with the fears of being separated from their friends, families and loved ones. This shouldn’t be happening, but sadly, the reality is that borders exist to restrict the movement of people and goods for the benefit of capitalists, and no solid reforms or a pathway to citizenship have been won so far.”
“No human being should have to worry about ICE detaining or deporting them. They shouldn’t have to worry about not having access to the same basic rights as those who were simply born here, or being racially discriminated against as a second- or third-rate citizen based upon their country of origin or race.”
“Immigrants who don’t have DACA protections have to navigate the realities of being exploited in their workplaces. Crooked employers will exploit their undocumented immigrant workforce without batting an eye, even engaging in wage theft. Immigrants without work authorization can only take on off-the-books jobs and employers know this, so they frequently take advantage of their precarious social condition and commonly pay subpar wages below the legal minimum wage.”
“I’m lucky to have grown up in the tri-state area, which is more progressive to a certain degree than other states. Even before DACA was introduced in 2012, I was able to get into school without an SSN, something that folks in places like Alabama couldn’t enroll in at the time. I’m grateful to CUNY for granting me a good and affordable education. I was able to get my undergraduate degree at Brooklyn College, and then study at SLU for my Master’s in labor studies. More importantly, I’m forever grateful to my parents for supporting and helping me pursue my academic endeavors, if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”
What brought him to SLU? “Initially, what brought me to the School of Labor and Urban Studies were my interests in radical left politics and labor organizing efforts. During the last semester of my undergrad studies, Professor Immanuel Ness encouraged me to apply, and told me about SLU’s Diversity Scholarship, which would cover tuition costs and provide a modest stipend to help with the exorbitant cost of living in NYC. I made the decision to apply for the Diversity Scholarship and luckily enough landed it! If it weren’t for Professor Ness there is the possibility that I may not have gone through with the application, so I’m very grateful for his indefatigable support throughout my undergrad and grad studies.”
I was overjoyed when I received the news because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the funds, because I wasn’t been eligible to apply for FAFSA to attend SLU. For those who are considering applying to SLU, I highly recommend it and encourage them to look into the Diversity Scholarship and other scholarships that are available. SLU’s faculty and staff are some of the most understanding and supportive folks that I’ve met through higher ed. I’m deeply grateful to them for being there every step of the way!”
What first piqued my interest in radical politics was punk rock and hip hop culture in my adolescent years, but it wouldn’t be until undergrad that I would begin to investigate deeper social science theories in the realm of politics and labor. I majored in political science and philosophy, was introduced to Marxist theories by my mentor and friend, Professor Ness.
I was involved in a variety of anti-war protests during our country’s involvement in Afghanistan, in my undergrad. Then in my senior year, I interned with RWDSU and we worked on a year and half long campaign attempt to organize CUNY’s cafeteria workers. I learned a lot about the power of labor, collective action, solidarity, and how unions play a huge role in improving workers’ lives. But most importantly I learned that unions can be a vehicle for the social transformation of society and that led me to SLU.
“SLU’s faculty have an extensive background in organizing and activist work, they’re actively involved in the labor movement. They’re scholars of course but lecturing isn’t their only skill,” Pedro said. “That made a big impression on me. Professor Luce was actively engaged in
organizing grad students at UCR. In Professor Arsenia Reilly-Collins’ Issues in Organizing class, she brought in people from the Writers Guild and other unions who talked about the whole process of organizing. It was fascinating. Then you have militant scholars who have been involved in unionizing campaigns with the IWW, such as Professor LeNabat, who I had the opportunity to take Research Methods, Capstone Planning, and lastly the final Capstone course where I gained a lot of knowledge on how to conduct research and learn different methods of social inquiry.” He added, “And the faculty and staff are so kind and supportive. Often I felt anxious. Sometimes I felt like giving up. But they always pulled me through it. My advisor, Irene Garcia-Mathes, was super supportive at times when my morale was low. Janet Leslie and others such as Rose Imperato always were always there every step of the way. I would go to a class like Professor Stephanie Luce’s course in Neoliberalism in the Era of Globalization and get inspired and motivated all over again.”
Pedro applied to UCR in December 2021 and was accepted in March. “But as a DACA student from out of state,” he said, “of course there were hurdles. Funding had to be worked out. I finally got here in late June and started working on research projects for the Latino and Latin American Studies Research Center under Professor Alfonso Gonzales Toribio. I’m really looking forward to beginning my first quarter of studies!”
He continued, “Some elements of the political economy of this region are changing drastically. The Inland Empire is the epicenter of the warehousing and logistics industry. They have the highest concentration of warehouses, distribution, and fulfillment centers in the entire country. What does this mean for those workers who labor in these facilities? More labor exploitation, more environmental degradation, more industrial gentrification and displacement, but also the potentialities for more solidarity, labor organizing and collective action.”
“Some ethnic towns and communities are being bought out by greedy developers offering cash that isn’t even at market rate. If a developer wants to build a warehouse, they’ll knock down dozens of homes. I believe it’s estimated that every four homes with a couple acres of land can be bulldozed to fit one warehouse. In Bloomington, California, developers along with logistics conglomerates are already moving to rezone 213 acres of residential/agricultural land into commercial/industrial, which would destroy the cultural traditions and way of life of the extensive Mexican Ranchero community there. In my first month here, I connected with some community and organizations such as CCAEJ, an environmental justice nonprofit organization that is working on a campaign against the disgraceful Bloomington Business Park Specific Plan Project.”
“Zimmerman Elementary school was recently sold to Howard Industrial Partners, a developer who plans to demolish the school to build a warehouse, and the city council is in favor of it thus far. That was a huge eye-opener.” He shook his head. “It’s completely different from what I was used to in the tri-state area. It’s not the wild west exactly, but it’s pretty wild. Seeing miles upon miles of endless warehouses is something that I wasn’t accustomed to and honestly seemed pretty dystopian. Reading about it and then seeing it in person is different.”
Pedro is still contemplating what he wants to focus on in his Ph.D. course of study, but the themes he seeks to study include labor, international solidarity, theories of imperialism and the warehousing industry in the Inland Empire. “I applied to the program because I’m interested in studying theory. I am particularly interested in Latinx labor and the prospects for a revitalized form of anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and socialist internationalism. Capitalism is undergoing another global crisis that’s linked to the worsening of material conditions for working class people. I believe that the struggles of social movements, labor movements, anti-imperialist movements and anti-war movements all intersect. I want to study that. But I’m also interested in organizing. Fortunately, I don’t have to decide until my second year.”
He grinned. “It’s a lot to think about. But I have a lot of ideas.”