Mujeres Unidas y Activas is located inside the Women’s Building on 18th Street. Photo Courtesy

Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), a locally based grassroots Latina immigrant organization, recently initiated a language program to aid San Francisco residents gain access to public services in their native language.

Since the outset of the year, with a grant from the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, MUA has been holding bi-monthly workshops to inform San Francisco residents about their linguistic rights.

“All public agencies should be able to provide language services,” stated Ana de Carolis, MUA’s English Integration Program Coordinator.

A report by the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission revealed that 44 percent of San Francisco residents over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. Furthermore, it showed that 13 percent of households are “linguistically isolated”—meaning that no one in the household over the age of 14 speaks English “well” or “very well.”

The Language Access Ordinance (LAO), which was passed by San Francisco in 2001, requires equal access to city services, programs, and information in languages other than English.

MUA, as well as Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), a member of the San Francisco Language Access Network, provide assistance with filling out complaints, which are anonymous.

“We want to reach out to the community at large [about our language access program] because not everyone knows that they have [language] rights [as well as] the right to file a complaint,” said Carolis.

As a result of the need to help San Francisco’s limited English speaking residents, eight community organizations—including the African Advocacy Network, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, CARECEN, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Filipino Community Center, People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights, and Self-Help for the Elderly—formed the network in May to build education on language accessibility.

MUA, although not one of the eight organizations, works closely with the network to offer services in the community, especially in the Mission.

“The Latino community is unaware of the rights that it has. The people do not speak about the injustices that happen to them because they think that they are just immigrants and therefore cannot speak up. We do not have a voice,” said Lourdes Reboyoso, a peer leader at MUA who helps lead group discussions and provides testimony and support for the women.

Lourdes spoke about how her limited English and San Francisco’s lack of resources in Spanish hinder her ability to effectively communicate with others. On one occasion, she went with a friend to MTA about an issue, but neither of the women was assisted because the worker who spoke Spanish was not there and there was not anyone else to attend to them.

“We waited all day for the person to return, and even after waiting for hours, no one attended to us,” said Lourdes.

Despite struggles with English and after four years at MUA, Lourdes said: “This organization has taught me and my community that we have a voice and we have rights. [Our voice and rights] are what we have a right to and what we should demand for ourselves.”