Sergio Carranza Sergio Carranza Sergio Carranza is the founder and the executive director of Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation. Pueblo Unido is a non-profit organization that works to address the many social justice issues present in the eastern Coachella Valley. They work closely with the community to gain a deep understanding of the complexities of life in rural locations and they focus on tangible results. Sergio was born in El Salvador and he grew up there during the country’s civil war. A war that brought violence and human rights violations to much of the country. In his youth he became interested in the Catholic religion and in social work. He became a catechist and worked to better his community through the church. His faith also helped him cope with the realities of the civil war that was taking place around him. It was during that time that he learned about Liberation Theology, the understanding of the gospel from a perspective that emphasizes a commitment to social change and liberation from oppression. One of its tenets is to bring dignity and hope to oppressed people through organizing and action. These ideas helped him develop his worldview and his relationship to his faith and they continue to inform the work that he does in the Coachella Valley. Eventually he came to the United States in order to get away from the violence of the civil war, it was a matter of survival. Through family connections he made his way to the valley and through his church he learned about the living conditions and the social injustices in the Eastern Coachella Valley. He began working as an organizer with a couple of non-profit organizations. This experience gave him a lot perspective about farm workers living conditions and life in the U.S. The scale of the injustices was eye opening but the availability of resources for progressive work was also surprising. The fact that a person could make money as a community organizer and advocate was new to him. In El Salvador he did work for the community with zero money, in the U.S. he found that there are financial resources available for community work. The gap between those two situations allows for Sergio to do more work with less money than someone in a similar position might be able to. One of the fundamental things that he learned during his early work as an organizer was that the community has to be pushing the work forward in order for the work to be effective. To that end Sergio created Pueblo Unido, a small organization with a strong sense of mission. It consists of a few core employees and a network of contractors and it was created as an instrument for the community to gain access to resources. As a result of years of talking to the community their work is focused in the areas of infrastructure development, affordable housing and community economic development. Sergio believes that in order for people to have faith in the work that his organization does people must be able to see results “… they want to see something tangible. They want to believe. Something physical, visible is a huge thing. For people to see progress is huge.” One of the projects with the most visible results is the paving of streets and roads in trailer parks. The eastern, and especially the southeastern, end of the valley is home to dozens of trailer parks in which the roads are unpaved. This raises many issues of public health and accessibility. Over the last few years Pueblo Unido has facilitated the paving of roads in many of these communities. It has been slow going as many things have to come together for this to happen but Sergio and his organization have been diligent and steadfast in pursuing it. As a result, approximately 50 trailer parks are now paved. This kind of work raises the residents’ quality of life and instills the confidence in people that is necessary for them to raise their concerns and ask for those concerns to be addressed. Another important initiative for them is to help provide access to safe drinking water. Many of the trailer parks where farm workers live are situated on land that has dangerously high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the water. Since these communities have grown organically over the last many decades there is no county infrastructure or plan to deal with the fact that many of the county’s residents use what is in effect poisoned water for their everyday needs. By installing water filtration systems, some in the home and some that supply water for an entire trailer park, Pueblo Unido is helping to provide residents with clean water. It is estimated that it would cost Riverside County $32,000,000 to provide the entire Eastern Coachella Valley with clean water, Pueblo Unido’s budget for this work at the time of this writing was $26,000. The contrast is jarring but they will stretch those $26,000 as far as they possibly can. Also high on their agenda is the availability of quality, affordable housing for people. Many of the people they work with live in substandard housing that ranges from trailers with inappropriate infrastructure and services to outright homelessness. In this area Pueblo Unido is in a unique and interesting position. Some years ago the trailer park community of St. Anthony was slated to close and the hundreds of residents living there were going to have to move out. As a way of having those people not be displaced Pueblo Unido took over ownership and management of the trailer park, effectively making them the landlord. They have taken this opportunity to use it as a model for the work they are doing as well as a source of information and input from community residents. Being a landlord has also brought it's challenges and has shown them the complexities of life in rural communities. One of the things they have learned is how hard it is to financially sustain such an enterprise. The amount of money needed to maintain, repair and develop the infrastructure of the trailer park is greater that the income that it generates but it is difficult to raise rent without an outcry from the residents. The community has a culture of mistrust from past relationships with owners which makes the work very fragile, a small error in communication or judgment can undo months or even years of progress. Nevertheless being the landlord at St. Anthony’s provides them with a perspective they can apply to the work they are doing at St. Anthony as well as the dozens of other trailer parks they work with. The third major initiative that Pueblo Unido is pursuing is that of economic development for the community. Through various projects they are achieving some success in home ownership, small business development and specific skill training and education. They have helped people achieve that most American of American dreams, the ownership of real estate. They use an approach in which through their own work they create the assets needed to develop further work. As an example, they have installed working water filtration systems that need maintenance and repair. In time there are plans to train residents in the maintenance and repair of these systems thereby giving these individuals a marketable skill. Over many years Sergio has developed a way of working that is effective. It begins with listening to the community’s needs and then using his organization's collective knowledge and experience to help facilitate a resolution to those needs. He then brings to this his hard work. Interminable hours are put into balancing the community’s needs, the delicate intricacies of communication, the interests of all the parties involved and the available resources. The final, but equally important, part of the equation is that he stays there. He is there letting people see that there is continuity in the work and showing them tangible results. It seems more work than one single person can do but he finds strength and steadfastness in the faith he acquired in his youth. His spirituality is the heart of his work and the fountain of his tirelessness. In the fifteen years he has been serving the people of the valley his sense of mission has only increased. “You have to have faith. This is what I believe is my calling. I have responsibility, I was raised this way. It requires commitment”. This commitment and the satisfaction he derives from seeing progress keep him going. He does see change happening and he speaks of the generational political changes that are taking place. Young people from local families such as Congressman Raul Ruiz and Assemblymember Eddie Garcia are now working in government and representing the communities of the eastern Coachella Valley. He believes that the country's shifting demographics are going to make a big difference in poor people’s lives and he would like to accelerate that change.