Since 2006, the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition has been a regional hub for resources and support for the city’s growing immigrant community, and in that time, the organization has had to evolve to meet the changing needs of that community.

Now, the group is formally recognizing those changes with a new name and a new look, though the work that its members have done to build power in their community will continue.

The new name—Organizing Rooted in Abolition, Liberation and Empowerment, or ÓRALE—is a Spanish word that roughly translates to “right on.” The group represents the voices of the over 30,000 undocumented immigrants living in Long Beach, a population that is underestimated, according to executive director Gaby Hernandez, and deserves to be heard.

“We’re not voiceless,” Hernandez said. “We actually have quite a loud voice, and we can speak our mind, and we actually want to occupy these spaces that are making decisions without us.”

The new name, Hernandez said, encompasses the group’s mission to “build, sustain and organize a thriving immigrant-led movement to abolish the criminalization of immigrants and to secure bold protections and opportunities to allow immigrant communities to thrive.” The name also easily translates to Spanish, which was a priority for the ÓRALE team and allows it to expand to areas across the South Bay.

In their office near Downtown, Hernandez and Associate Director Maribel Cruz sat in front of a brand new mural created by local artist Jose Loza. Painted in a quilt pattern, the design is centered around a megaphone, symbolizing the power of their community’s voice, while the colors reflect the vibrance of the undocumented immigrant community. Each square consists of portraits of the ÓRALE team, community leaders who have been an integral part of their work, families that they’ve helped along the way and the organization’s core values. The butterflies across the piece are a symbol of migration, and the power fists are an ode to the power-building they will continue to do in this new phase.

A mural by local artist Jose Loza represents the vision of Organizing Rooted in Abolition, Liberation and Empowerment. Courtesy of the ÓRALE website.

Ahead of the launch of their rebrand, the pair reflected on the work that they’ve done over the past five years to grow the organization in a way that better represents the intersectionality of the immigrant experience, having lived through it themselves.

When Hernandez came to the U.S. from Mexico City at 12 years old, she lived in Oceanside, and being in a military town near Camp Pendleton, she said the racism against people like her was evident. Being Mexican was not something to be proud of, she said. “You get treated like you’re not human. …but you’re not less than anyone else because you don’t have a status.”

That’s when she began to realize the power of forming a collective to fight against oppressive systems, especially when elected officials did not represent the people they were serving.

In 2006, as a high school student, Hernandez joined nearly 40,000 other students across Southern California in staged walkouts to protest immigration legislation that would give police more power to enforce immigration law and add 700 miles of additional fencing along the border.

Gaby Hernandez, Executive Director of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Gaby Hernandez, executive director of Organizing Rooted in Abolition, Liberation and Empowerment. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“I remember feeling this fire and thinking, ‘This is amazing,’” she said. Seeing other students that looked like her organizing and coming together was a testament that, “as a collective, you can really make some real change.”

When Hernandez came to Cal State Long Beach in 2015, she continued her student organizing work with For Undocumented Empowered Leaders (F.U.E.L), a student organization offering support for undocumented students, and that led her to want to expand her reach to the Long Beach community as a whole. “I know that we deserve better,” Hernandez said.

Cruz, on the other hand, came to the U.S. from Oaxaca as a baby and grew up being her parents’ de-facto translator, helping them navigate the education, medical and criminal justice systems. “I had to advocate for myself,” she said.

Her parents, Cruz said, faced systems of oppression and racism in Mexico – as indigenous people who only spoke their native Chinanteco – and they faced that same oppression in the U.S., where they needed to speak English to navigate and survive but didn’t know how.

Maribel Cruz, Associate Director of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Maribel Cruz, associate director of Organizing Rooted in Abolition, Liberation and Empowerment in Long Beach, Friday, April 28, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

It was only through her social justice work that she began to understand how those systems were stacked against immigrants of color and how they needed to be dismantled in order for them to live fuller lives.

When Cruz joined LBIRC in 2016, she realized that the resources being provided by LBIRC at the time, like legal clinics and DACA workshops, were “just Band-aids” to cover up the deeper issues at hand.

When the pair came together at LBIRC, Cruz in 2016 and Hernandez in 2018, they began to realize the potential they had to create a different type of immigrant rights organization.

Together, they want the people they serve to not just survive but also have moments of abundance, joy and love.

Since 2021, ÓRALE’s budget has nearly doubled to about $1 million, through the help of donors and foundations, which will allow them to further the work that they’ve done over the past five years.

Some standout moments include leading efforts to secure money for the Long Beach Justice Fund, which provides free legal services for members of the undocumented community in Long Beach who are in deportation proceedings and lack government-funded access to legal counsel. In 2018, the city allocated $250,000 for the fund, and in 2022 that number grew to $1.1 million, expanding beyond just removal processes to also include Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protections, victims of crime visas, trafficking visas and other forms of immigration relief, according to ÓRALE’s 2023 Impact Report.

ÓRALE has also created grassroots funds to free immigrant community members from detention by helping them pay their bonds, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it distributed $1.8 million in financial assistance  to 1,865 families across the South Bay who were ineligible for government assistance due to their status.

ÓRALE’s volunteer-led mutual aid efforts in Long Beach and Wilmington provide free food weekly for residents in need, and they also offer a variety of mental health and wellness programming for the community to improve their collective mental health, all with the understanding that emboldening a community to speak up for themselves is only possible until basic needs are met.

ÓRALE also launched a new membership program on May 1 that will take folks through political education programs that will end in a graduation and give them access to membership specific programming. Any undocumented and immigrant adults living in the South Bay area are encouraged to join, and more information can be found on ÓRALE’s website.

In this new chapter, the organization will continue to focus on issues at the local, state and federal levels, ranging from local campaigns like Keep Sithy Home, which is fighting to secure a pardon from Gov. Gavin Newsom to prevent the deportation of Cambodian Long Beach resident Sithy Bin, to the Health 4 All campaign, which advocates for universal health access for all immigrants nationwide.

Through four key areas of focus: immigrant justice, economic justice, health justice and power building, ÓRALE will ensure that its work is all-encompassing, because the immigrant experience is not just about immigration reform.

“Immigration reform is not something that looks foreseeable in the near future, so it’s about tackling the issues that affect Long Beach’s immigrant community on a daily basis,” Hernandez said.

ÓRALE hopes to empower the immigrant community in the South Bay to have the certainty that something better is possible and to ensure that they find ways to live a dignified life.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the organization and to correct when Gaby Hernandez started at CSULB.