Too many of us hold back from community involvement because we think we don’t know enough to act on our beliefs, or don’t have the standing or confidence to take a public stand. When we see a woman who begins with no money, no power, no education and no status in the community, and then becomes a powerful voice for change, it should inspire us all.
Virginia Ramirez, of San Antonio, Texas, could easily have lived out her days without ever discovering her ability to speak out. She left school after eighth grade to get married. “That was what most Hispanic women in my generation did. My husband, who drives a taxicab, went to work after sixth grade.” Although dropping out seemed normal at the time, she felt frustrated when she couldn’t help her five children with their homework.
When Virginia was forty-five, she realized that an elderly neighbor was getting sick every winter. The neighbor was a widow who lived in a house so dilapidated that it couldn’t retain heat. “She was one of those people who always paid her taxes on time, always faithfully making out her little money orders. But she couldn’t afford to repair her house, and everyone around here was just as poor. So I went with her to city agencies trying to get help. They kept sending us from place to place, from department to department. Finally she died of pneumonia. The paramedics said she’d never have died if her house hadn’t been so freezing cold.
“I’d never been so angry in my life,” Virginia recalls. “This woman had done everything she was supposed to, and now she was dead because no one could help her fix her house. Someone said there’s this community organization called COPS, and maybe they could help.”