In honor of the Ms. Foundation’s week of action on child care, 2012 Fellow E. Tammy Kim interviewed Lourdes Alarcon, 40, a working mother of two and member of Parent Voices, a Ms. Foundation grantee fighting for affordable and accessible child care in California. Alarcon spoke of her struggles to balance school, work and child care in the wake of her husband’s departure to Mexico under threat of immigration enforcement.
Ms. Foundation: Tell us about your background and your children.
Lourdes Alarcon: I’m from La Paz, Bolivia. I emigrated in 1992 and am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I have two children: Xavier, who is 7; and Itzel, who is 5.
Ms.: What is your work history?
LA: I lost my job in 2008 as a school secretary. A lot of deportations and hate against Latino immigrants happened then, just around the time my husband decided to voluntarily leave the country.
Nobody wanted to hire me because I didn’t have reliable child care; I needed child care desperately. Meanwhile, my unemployment expired, so I had to go back on welfare, CalWORKs.
They give you some cash aid and they try to train you and provide you with job entry. But even if I get a job, I cannot support my children at $9 or $10 [an hour], for minimum wage without health care and benefits.
I decided to pursue a career in education, to get my Associate’s degree and eventually start working again. I graduated from City College of San Francisco, and the job market was still slow, so I decided to continue. I transferred to San Francisco State University.
Ms.: What kinds of child care have you used?
LA: Being a student, I qualified for child care at San Francisco State University—only my youngest child joined. There is one teacher for every four children; the quality is amazing. They have a beautiful playground, a place to grow plants, chickens, science projects, a storyteller coming every week. It makes a difference in my child’s life. But I had to do a lot in terms of paperwork—I had to be on the waiting list for six months—and it was pretty hard on me.
My dad picks up Xavier after school. He gets $1.99 per hour—the state gives me a subsidy for someone in my family to take care of my child.
You have to pay $1200 a month for quality child care that’s licensed. [Unlicensed providers] are low paid, so you can find someone who gives care in their own home, but they have many children to meet their quota, to make some money. Sometimes it’s not quality [care].
Ms.: What have you observed about child care providers?
LA: Child care providers are, in a way, exploited. People may think that child care providers “watch” your children or change a diaper, but I think it’s one of the most important jobs because it’s taking care of the future. These are the future individuals who are going to be working and doing things, so I think that’s the most important job. Teaching and child care are usually diminished. They’re not well paid, and they’re not well recognized.
Ms.: What is your vision for child care and early childhood education?
LA: I think education goes from 0 to 18. Extra funds or extra revenue should go into education, and we should not divide the child care system from the education system.
Ms.: How have you advocated for this vision?
LA: Organizing. The budget cuts in California were horrible. They affected me in every aspect of my life. So I had to advocate for Prop 30* in order to take care of my community, my children and myself. My goal as an organizer is to light up the government officials so they make better decisions, not only for child care services but also for the whole education system.
*Proposition 30, approved by California voters in November, generates money for the state budget by temporarily raising the sales tax and income taxes for the wealthy. Parent Voices was active in this fight.