WASHINGTON – They say that no man is a prophet in his own land, and perhaps that is true of Luis Valentan, a 46-year-old Mexican who traded in his construction tools and nowadays has become a media personality who encourages, advises and defends many of those who have dared to illegally cross the southern border into the United States.
“Good morning, welcome to all the day laborers who are listening to us,” says Valentan each morning to kick off his radio program “Voces Jornaleras” (Day Laborer Voices), sending out a greeting to those who are “going home from work, who are going to work or who are on the street corner seeking work.”
He has no formal experience in radio but rather he gained the experience he brings to the show via the sorrows and troubles he has faced as a migrant in his almost 30 years in the US and he imparts the experiences of one who has had to wait on street corners looking for day work and trying his luck in different places until he ended up in Los Angeles.
“We don’t have any experience in locution, we’re not lecturers, we’re not academics, we’re not journalists, professionals, but – yes – we’re those people who have experienced all these injustices and we’re those who are telling our own stories,” Valentan told EFE.
His program has one of the largest audiences – some 84,000 connections on the social networks per day – on Radio Jornalera, an Internet radio station that officially launched on June 1 with eight hours of programming per day, including English classes and practical tips on such things as how to negotiate with employers about pay.
“Voces Jornaleras” is a program that “is focused on labor rights, on civil rights that has to do with everything affecting and benefiting the working community,” said Valentan, who added that he also makes it a point to motivate workers “to go out, put your heart into it and don’t give up.”
“Since I arrived (in the US) I’ve had a false view of this country. It’s like they’re always selling us that American Dream and even our countrymen ... are making themselves part of that lie, when they tell you that everything here is really nice and you can earn a lot of money,” said Valentan, recalling his arrival in the US in 1991.
“Nobody ever tells you the real means by which many of our people return with money or the things that have to happen to be able to go back with money,” he said, having lived in New York, San Francisco and Arizona – where he recalled that controversial anti-immigrant measures were being undertaken by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – as well as Los Angeles.
For Valentan, who was attracted to radio as a medium for helping people, the main problems of immigrants are the immediate ones: “finding a job, the language barrier, the barrier regarding access to many other resources.”
“I noticed that I wasn’t the only one. There were lots of people walking around lost on the street, not understanding what they had come to in this country,” he said, adding that the great majority of immigrants “do jobs that nobody else wants to do, poorly paid ones” that include abuse, intimidation and threats.
Co-hosting the show with Valentan is Victor Aguayo, 56, who also talks on the air with experts in immigration law and with day laborers about their experiences.
According to figures compiled by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), comprising more than 70 worker centers across the US, there are between two and three million day laborers in this country of whom 53 percent are undocumented and 75 percent are of Mexican origin.
In one of the show’s segments, the hosts analyze every tweet that President Donald Trump posts and try to understand it in terms of how it affects day laborers.
“Here, we try to ask ourselves ‘What is it with this guy (Trump) that he doesn’t want to share (information on) his taxes but he does want people to share their personal data on Facebook and the social networks?” said Valentan.
Immigrant workers in Southern California created the Radio Jornalera Internet radio station to counter verbal attacks on undocumented Latinos by Trump and his allies.
“The idea is to generate pride in being a ‘jornalero,’ pride in being an immigrant worker. Because when you have pride, when you have a very strong identity, nobody is going to humiliate you,” NDLON director Pablo Alvarado told EFE in early May.