“The many women that I’ve had the opportunity to know and to walk alongside over the years are incredible,” attorney and advocate Mónica Ramírez asserted in a recent TED Talk. “They’re powerful, and they have their own voices, but they’re not always given the mic or the megaphone—and I believe that all of us need to find ways to help those who are least visible be passed the microphone.”
Ramírez condensed her wisdom from more than two decades serving immigrants, farm workers and victims of sexual harassment into a moving 11-minute speech at the recent TED Salon themed around “Belonging”—beginning with her experiences growing up the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers.
“Most people around the country don’t understand the reality of farmworkers because farmworkers are isolated. Farm workers aren’t often seen,” Ramírez explained. “But they face some of the most devastating social problems—like wage theft, rampant sexual harassment, pesticides exposure and other dangerous working conditions.”
Ramírez broke that silence at age 14, when she began talking to farmworkers for reports in her local newspaper. “By interviewing farmworkers and other community members, I heard directly from them about the problems that they’re encountering and the solutions that they have,” Ramírez told the audience. “They do have their own voice—and they also have their own power.”
That lesson shaped Ramírez’s career, which has been built around providing visibility for her clients on their own terms. The founder of Justice for Migrant Women and Esperanza: The Immigrant Women’s Legal Initiative changed the trajectory of the #MeToo and TIME’S UP movements when she published an open letter challenging celebrity activists to include farmworker women in their movement, and her work with the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance transformed the popularity of Academy-Award winning Roma into gains for domestic workers worldwide.
“I asked [one client, who was a survivor] what I could I do to better magnify these stories, particularly so that other women who still lived in the shadows would feel supported enough to come forward,” she remembered. “She told me that the best thing I could do was to help her tell her story, and the stories of other women who had bravely come forward, so that women could see that individuals did speak out—and they lived through it. She was absolutely right that it was the power of elevating her story and those like hers that would help others come forward.”
Farmworkers, migrants, survivors and other folks at the intersections do not belong on the sidelines and in the shadows. They belong behind the microphone, where their own voices can be heard.
Ramírez’s work is proof of the power of making that possible.