MN VOICES | Jovita Morales: Sharing the language of survival

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Woman. Mother. Community organizer. Advocate. Inspiration. Jovita Morales wears many hats, but her role as survivor is at the core of everything she does. As someone who has experienced domestic violence firsthand, she is using her own story of survival to inspire others to seek healing and empowerment. And it has been through these interactions that Morales has discovered her own sense of self.

Growing up in San Francisco del Rio, located in the municipality of Ixtlahuaca, Mexico, her family spoke Mazahua at home while she learned Spanish in school. After completing sixth grade, Morales worked in Mexico City before moving to Minnesota at the age of 15. When she arrived in Minneapolis, Morales spoke no English at all. “It was a long day when I came here,” she said. “A different language, cold weather. It was a big surprise for me.”

She began volunteering at the Waite House Neighborhood Center front desk in order to learn and practice English. According to Morales, overcoming the language barrier has been one of her biggest challenges, as well as one of her biggest accomplishments. Now fluent in English and in her seventh year at Waite House, she is in a position to mentor other Latino immigrants who face many of the same hardships that she once did.

As a community organizer for Mujeres en Liderazgo, a women’s leadership group, Morales has been involved in projects related to labor rights, immigration, and domestic violence, an issue that is especially resonant for her. Several years ago she overcame an abusive relationship, an experience that inspired her to help others who have endured similar situations.

The women Morales works with often look to her for inspiration. “I tell them, ‘I was in the same position as you, but look at me now. You can do it!’” She watches the transformation of women who are reluctant or unable to express themselves as they discover their voices and become increasingly determined to empower themselves. She finds it rewarding when they say to her, “I’m going to talk in public. I’m going to do my own thing. I’m going to focus on myself.”

For Morales, the relationship between individual triumphs and group successes doubles as one of her personal tenets. “If someone has a problem, we work it out together,” she explains.

Taking this philosophy to the airwaves, the leaders of Mujeres have partnered with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) to host La Voz del Pueblo, a weekly talk show on KFAI that highlights and discusses topics vital to the Twin Cities Latino community. On air a little over a year, the main goal of the show is to provide listeners with resources that they can share with others in their communities. “We give people the information they need to hear,” says Morales.

Mujeres is currently promoting the “I am Minneapolis” municipal ID campaign, the goal of which is to provide city residents with their own multi-use identification card. The IDs will not only establish a card holder’s legal identity, but will also provide access to basic services such as banks, libraries, public transportation, and parking, and as well as offer discounts at area businesses. The cards will facilitate greater integration of immigrant, homeless, and other marginalized populations into local civic and economic life. “This will help boost the local economy,” Morales explains.

Later this summer, Morales will begin working for the Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project. As an advocate, she will provide support and resources for women facing domestic violence, among other issues. “This kind of work is my passion,” Morales says. She plans to utilize the communication and leadership skills she has learned from Mujeres in her new position.

Ultimately, Morales would like to reach an even larger audience by writing a book about her life. She plans to include stories about her experiences in Mexico and Minnesota – listening, learning, teaching, and growing – and offer them as a guide for other survivors of domestic abuse.

This demonstrates the main tenet of Morales’s personal philosophy: Share what you have learned in the ongoing process of personal healing and helping others.