“We’re shaped by experiences, life experiences.”
Jesusa Rivera’s leadership blends passion with vision. She organizes others to help bring visibility and assistance to the immigrant and Latinx communities. Jesusa’s personal experiences bring an intimate understanding of these issues to her work.
Jesusa’s experiences began when her family immigrated to America from Mexico and entered the migrant farm worker circuit. Jesusa noted that her family’s circuit was the triangle comprising Texas, Oklahoma, and Michigan. Migrant farm work “was what they knew.” They eventually “ended up” in South Bend when continuing to work the circuit became too much, her mother filled up the truck and drove until it ran out of gas.
Soon after arriving in South Bend, Jesusa looked around and noticed that while the Hispanic population was quite prevalent throughout the community, they weren’t visibly represented. She met with the General Manager of WSBT and asked, “We are part of this community but why aren’t we highlighted? Why are all the faces lily white?” The next day WSBT offered her a job as a reporter. Different versions of this question of representation would continue to guide her passion and leadership in the community.
Later in life, while working in accounting, Jesusa realized that while the pay was good, it didn’t feed her passions. Again she asked, “Where are the Latinos? We need to highlight our culture. We’re here, but people don’t see us. We’re invisible.” She created a children’s Mexican folk group to help educate the entire community on the importance of Mexican culture.
A version of this question echoed again when Jesusa looked at the political scene and “didn’t see people who looked like us.” She met with then Mayor Luecke to learn the issues and take a position on the Board of Public Safety to continue the expansion of her work on immigration issues.
In 2012 she was invited to participate in President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) press conference and has served as national chair for the Civil Rights for All Immigrants organization. She continues to advocate for state and local legislation to protect undocumented immigrants and work with La Casa de Amistad.
Jesusa continues to be involved in helping both documented and undocumented migrant workers. Describing her passion in this area, she observes, “the immigration piece is important to me because my parents were undocumented. I knew how we were treated.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by the Michiana Women Leaders Project
Jesusa was a 2017 CMWL honoree.