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Mask with a triple purpose

SouthWest Organizing Project board member Janelle Astorga Ramos wearing a census mask produced by New Mexico Global Women’s Pathways. (Courtesy of SouthWest Organizing Project)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Jobs, masks and census participation.

That sums up the issues the SouthWest Organizing Project and several partner organizations are trying to address through their “masks with a message” project, said organizer Monica Demarco.

A mask designed by Eliza Lutz of Matron Records encourages participation in the 2020 census. (Courtesy of SouthWest Organizing Project)

Demarco, a newly graduated SWOP intern, said when the coronavirus pandemic hit, she wanted to find a way to reach people whose livelihoods would be affected but who wouldn’t be eligible for stimulus funds. She reached out to a number of organizations that work with refugees and immigrants, and came up with the plan: With help from those partner agencies, SWOP could recruit a number of people, including refugees and immigrants, to sew masks. SWOP would pay them a wage to do so, and the masks would be distributed in areas with high needs and low resources.

Then, Demarco said, SWOP CFO Marisol Archuleta had another suggestion: Use the masks as a vehicle to encourage people to fill out the census form, a flag SWOP had already been carrying since last year, since an undercount of New Mexico residents could result in millions of dollars in lost federal funding.

“It’s … making connections and collaborating and building positive relationships between all these organizations,” Demarco said.

Nkazi Sinandile, founder of New Mexico Global Women’s Pathways, teaches sewing as part of a job skills training program. (Courtesy of SouthWest Organizing Project)

SWOP spokesperson Mikyle Gray wrote in an email that Matron Records helped promote and design the masks, which bear slogans like “Don’t be silenced, be counted,” and are now available in English, Spanish, Tewa and Swahili. Representatives of New Mexico Women’s Global Pathways and Casa Fortaleza and others then produced the fabric masks. Finally, organizations including Pueblo Action Alliance, Transwoman Empowerment Initiative, Crossroads For Women, Street Safe, the Resource Reentry Center, Shiprock and Santa Clara Pueblo have helped manage distribution to those in need, including to Native, undocumented, refugee, transgender and incarcerated people.

Demarco said Wednesday about 2,500 masks have been created so far, and about 2,000 have been handed out through partner agencies.

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