Petra Falcon knows about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. She got her first job when she was just 12 years old, working in an underwear factory, after her father left and her mother suffered a stroke. Today, she is the executive director of Promise Arizona, an immigrant rights organization focused on leadership development. The organization was born out of opposition to Arizona’s harshly anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, which, among other provisions, required cops to verify immigration status during routine stops. The law has since been partially overturned by the Supreme Court. Since that fight began in 2010, Promise Arizona has registered 46,000 new voters.
Immigrants have deep roots in our community. They have children who are citizens.
Falcon, whose parents descended from Mexican migrant workers, never got much education. But despite being poor and on welfare, the young woman “fought and fought for [her] education.” Eventually, she attended Arizona State University. At school, she made connections to activists in the farmworker movement. She studied political science and has worked as an activist, organizer, and movement-builder since 1975.
Faith is also a crucial part of Falcon’s work. “Our mantra in 2010 was faith, hope, vote,” Falcon says. “We’re very much driven by the spirit of our Blessed Mother.” Falcon converted to Catholicism as a young woman, but faith has always been an important part of her life. “Whatever doors are open today are being opened by my faith in God,” she says. She knows her journey from poverty to college and now to becoming a community leader has been remarkable. “I have not done this alone,” she says. Organizing, Falcon says, is “rooted in the story of yourself and how that story connects to a vision to bring dignity to families and communities, and a voice.”
Falcon draws on her own story in her work. She has a vision for the future of Arizona, and she is organizing to make that future a reality. She believes immigration policies should recognize the contributions of the millions of immigrants who are already here and contributing to our economy. “Immigrants have already changed the direction of the state. Immigrants have deep roots in our community. They have children who are citizens. We need to embrace that,” Falcon says. “There’s no going back.”