Staff Spotlight: Maria Luz Torre
Community organizing, political activism and advocacy is not just a job for Parent Voices Organizer Maria Luz Torre, it’s a lifelong commitment to social justice. Maria says, “I grew up in a political hot volcano, in the Philippines during martial law. I gave my first political speech when I was seven years old, at an election rally that my father was emceeing. A few months later martial law was declared.”
Maria majored in Political Science and earned her law degree from the University of the Philippines (UP) where she was elected as one of the student governors. While the rest of the country was under strict military rule, UP campuses were established as “free zones.” Students mobilized and protested, and Maria was swept up in a national movement to establish free elections. (NAMFREL). She says, “It was exciting! I was a NAMFREL volunteer. Vote buying was rampant, but we believed we could make a difference and we did. For us, voting is the most direct way we experience democracy. Now everyone votes. Election day is a national holiday in the Philippines.”
Maria came to the U.S. for the first time in 1990 as an exchange visitor on an environmental policy tour. After graduating from law school, she worked as a paralegal and as Advocacy and Networking Coordinator for an environmental organization in the Philippines. Her last campaign was the “Total Commercial Log Ban Bill.” She says, “We were pitted against commercial loggers, armed military and the Speaker of the House, who himself was a logger. It was not a safe time to be anti-commercial logging.”
In 1992 Maria returned to the U.S. where she applied for political asylum and began establishing her life in San Francisco. The following year her son was born, and two years later she had a daughter.
Then her personal circumstances changed. Suddenly Maria was a single mom with two young children, with no support network and in desperate need of child care in order to work. “It came as such a shock that in San Francisco, a city this prosperous, one in four children live in a third-world economy. Families with young children can get isolated and we were right in the middle of it. I have a law degree, but I couldn’t go to work without child care. I couldn’t leave my children on their own while I looked for a job.”
Fortunately Maria was able to find administrative work at Hamilton Family Center, a local emergency shelter center that provided part-time on site child care, and she became energized about the urgent issue of child care and early education. By 1996 she found herself at the helm of the newly established San Francisco chapter of Parent Voices, a position she still holds today.
Parent Voices is a statewide, parent-led grassroots organization that mobilizes and advocates at the local and state level to make quality child care accessible and affordable to all families. Maria says, “The constituents I work with are low to moderate income working parents with young children. Many of them struggle to survive here, but they are informed and passionate about child care. We have power and credibility at the city and state level; government leaders call on us to provide testimonies. We have strong turnouts for our events. Hundreds of people attend our annual ‘Walk-Around the Block’ day in April, when we visit with supervisors and lobby for more child care support.”
However, Maria says, “We need more financial, community and governmental support to build stronger networks, to share our experiences, to learn from each other and to build our power to fight for a more equitable and just society. Our chapter of Parent Voices is celebrating its twentieth anniversary soon, I want to make sure it will be around for another twenty years.”
To see Parent Voices in action at the state capital, check out this video of the “Stand for Children Day.”