Jacobin - June 14, 2021
...Jacobin’s Oren Schweitzer sat down with Avilés to discuss the state of politics in New York City, what it’s like to run on a socialist slate for office, and how she hopes to build working-class power.
Jacobin: Before running for city council you were president of the parent-teacher association at your daughters’ school for nearly a decade. What got you involved in organizing in the first place?
Aviles: I have always worked in social justice movements. When I started organizing with a parent, what I had witnessed in the New York City public school, even having been a public-school student myself, was severe inequity. The majority of the parents in the school that my daughters attended were Latino and Spanish-speaking, and almost everything was done in English. There was an expectation that people would just figure it out. But it was wholly unfair to expect elementary students to translate legal documents to their family members. That was a burden that was put on immigrant children from many different countries.
I also saw the inequities in school communities. If a child is hungry, they don’t perform well. If their family is unstable or there’s a crisis at home, they can’t concentrate on school. You see all the different needs that exist in the community manifest in a school building. As a Boricua who speaks Spanish and someone who saw the profound inequities with language and accessibility, I started to do whatever I could as someone who speaks both English and Spanish. It wasn’t fully formal translation, but I was able to walk parents through different things.
From there it kind of snowballed. That’s how organizing happens. You touch one thing and then move to another and bring parents along.
The parents were not exerting their voice and power in the building. It wasn’t just offering access to information about their children’s education that was important to them but walking them through how important their voice was in determining what happens in that building and that the public-school system was a service to the families.
We started reaching out and building a community with parents from all different backgrounds. We pushed for Muslim holidays to be celebrated and for different cultures to be celebrated in the school so people could build awareness and understanding of each other.
I stayed involved in the community and eventually landed on the community board. [In New York City, community boards advise elected officials and government agencies on matters affecting the social welfare of the district.] But I had already been working with all kinds of different organizations across the district and New York City. Organizing took me to the moment where I said yes to running for city council.
Jacobin: One of the big issues of your campaign is educational justice. Could you tell me about what you’re fighting for in your race?
Aviles: We currently see a system rife with inequity. It was created that way and perpetuated by policy choice through the years. Specifically, one of the things falling under education justice was demanding the full funding of public schools in New York. There was a huge victory that organizers won recently in getting the state to finally meet its obligation to fully fund public schools, along with new federal funding.
Some of the determinations for me that are really important in terms of educational justice are culturally responsive education. We want an education that reflects the cultural background of our students. The culture in New York City public schools should become a positive environment for young people, not one of criminalization and a deficit mindset that views kids as needing to be fixed.
We will be advocating hard that the new education funding goes to reducing class size. We also need to fund our schools equitably so that schools can get the resources they deserve. We need to get police out of schools. We want social workers and programs that help youth live and learn. We don’t want police officers and standardized testing all over the place. ...
Read full interview at Jacobin