By Cynthia Moreno, Vida en el Valle
FRESNO, Calif.—The life of Rufino Domínguez Santos -- and the estimated 700 thousand Oaxacans who reside in California -- changed when, on the day after Thanksgiving, the Fresno activist received a phone call.
The call was from Gabino Cué Monteagudo, the new governor of Oaxaca.
"At first I thought it was a joke, then I realized I was really talking to the governor," said Domínguez, director of the Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueña (CBDIO, Bi-national Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities).
Domínguez accepted Cué's invitation to form part of his cabinet.
Today, Domínguez is the first immigrant named director of the Instituto Oaxaqueño de Atención al Migrante (Oaxacan Institute for Migrant Services).
But the 47-year-old activist did not accept immediately.
"I told him I wasn't sure," said Domínguez during a telephone interview on Monday.
Cué, who represented a coalition of different political parties when he won the governorship against the candidate from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Revolutionary Institutional Party), responded: "Well, this isn't something that you have to think about for long. I'd like an answer soon."
Before hanging up the phone, Domínguez said yes with "honor and humility."
The job is of much importance to the Oaxacans in California, where many live and work in Los Ángeles, in the San Joaquín Valley or in the Salinas Valley.
Many Oaxacans are indigenous and do not speak English nor Spanish, and many are undocumented.
Domínguez, of Mixteco origin from San Miguel Cuevas, said that he will focus on three aspects as director of the institute: Making institutional reforms to help more immigrants, implementing projects so that people can have work in Oaxaca and not have to come to the U.S. seeking employment, and ensuring that migrants from Central and South America don't become victims of civil rights violations.
"I am going to focus on (making sure that) human rights are respected," said Domínguez, whose own civil rights were violated during his youth, and who had to flee Oaxaca in 1985 when he was 16 years old.
"I also want to open regional offices so that people can get help closer to their towns and homes, so that they don't have to go all the way to México City to get help," said Domínguez.
His greatest challenge, according to him, will be to change the laws - with help from the senators and diplomats at the federal and state level - to help immigrants keep their civil rights.
"I'm going to try to put my plans into effect taking small steps," said Domínguez, who plans to move from Fresno to Oaxaca on Dec. 27.
Regardless, Domínguez was blunt regarding politics.
"If human rights are not respected in Oaxaca, if there is no dialog between the social institutions in the state, and if there is no freedom of expression, I will not be part of the government," said Domínguez.
"I'm going to quit because I am not going to tolerate the injustice and I do not want to be an accomplice to their crimes." But Domínguez saw something positive in his recent visit to Oaxaca last week.
"I see a government that is diverse, positive and with great enthusiasm," he said. "The people are enthusiastic."
Various Oaxacan community leaders praised Domínguez as the choice to be in charge of the institute, which was established 11 years ago.
"Who better to understand the life of an immigrant than an immigrant himself?" said Odilia Romera, coordinator of women's affairs at the CBDIO in Los Ángeles.
"The governor made the best decision," she said. "Domínguez is dedicated to the community and has a lot of experience."
Berta Rodríguez, coordinator of communications at the CBDIO, said that Domínguez knows first hand what it is to be an immigrant coming to this country for a better future, and knows how hard it is to work in the fields.
"He knows what the greatest needs are for the community, and it's something that we all know he will continue to fight for," said Rodríguez.