Amber Arriaga-Salinas
Amber Arriaga-Salinas

The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is a coalition of eight non-partisan non-profit organizations located and working in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.The constituents of the RGV Equal Voice Network are the families and communities of the region, especially those families with low and very low incomes, and unrepresented by decision makers.

The work of the Network is done through efforts of seven working groups, each one of which has its own goals, objectives and strategies. The groups meet monthly, sharing leadership responsibility and tasks, and the entire leadership meets bi-monthly to plan, evaluate and adjust efforts to create substantial and sustainable social change.

Here are summaries of the work the groups have been doing:

Civic Engagement

The Civic Engagement Working Group is chaired jointly by Ramona Casas of ARISE and Lupita Sanchez of Proyecto Juan Diego. Casas and Sanchez said:

“Many of the issues that our families care about – affordable housing, jobs and economic security, access to education, and immigration reform – are decided at the state and the national level. From the beginning of the Equal Voice campaign, partners have sought information about the policies that affect the daily lives of how Valley families can make their voices heard by those who would claim to represent them.

“From this effort, the need arose for a Civic Engagement Working Group. While members of the RGV Equal Voice Network are decidedly and intentionally non-partisan, our efforts are aimed at empowering each and every member of the community to exercise their particular power toward the development of their communities.

“The Civic Engagement Working Group implements a variety of integrated voter actions, utilizing the tremendous experience and wisdom of partners who have been at this work for many, many years.”


The Education Working Group is chaired by Lourdes Flores of ARISE. Flores said:

“The group has focused its efforts on the development of Comunitarios, parent groups which seek to create an effective link between the school administration and the community. There are presently seven Comunitarios functioning in seven school districts and involving more than 200 parents.

“The asset-based approach was developed over the past decade with the hard work inspired and guided by leaders from the Intercultural Development Research Association. The approach seizes upon the strengths of a community convinced of the value of a quality education, but challenged by an inequitably-funded public school system.

“Most recently, the working group created and distributed a survey designed to alert families to the challenges of the new Texas Education Reform Bill (HB 5). The 1,600 responses from across the region resulted in a Mesa Comunitaria – a call to action in which public school leadership and community members designed action plans to confront this new way of administering secondary education.”


The Healthcare Working Group is chaired by Ann Cass of Proyecto Azteca. Cass said:

“The poorest region of the United States has no public hospital, and Texas’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has left more than 300,000 Rio Grande Valley residents unable to receive healthcare services because they cannot afford them.

“In the fact of these challenges, this working group has pulled together more than 30 community-based organizations from across the region in an effort to hold local and state elected officials accountable to constituents who have been left to the mercy of a for-profit health system.”


The Housing Working Group is chaired by Ann Cass of Proyecto Azteca. Cass said:

“Texas’ answer to affordable housing has long resulted in the creation of hundreds of low-income communities in the region known as ‘colonias’, or alternatively, (ironically) as ‘model subdivisions.’

“Residents of these communities suffer from a plague of infrastructure issues – flooding, inferior roads, lack of access to transportation or other services, and a lack of police and fire protection. After eight years of organizing, the group counts upon more than 50 community-based and community service groups in a collaboration to change this face of the Rio Grande Valley.”


The Immigration Working Group is co-chaired by John-Michael Torres of La Unión del Pueblo Entero and Paula Barrera of Proyecto Juan Diego. Torres and Barrera said:

“The Rio Grande Valley is blessed with a richly diverse community, one that celebrates the mixed immigration status of our families, schools, and churches. This goodness has been increasingly challenged by efforts to militarize the border communities, and criminalize immigrants.

“For the past eight years, the group has joined local, state, regional and national collaborative efforts to push for comprehensive, just and humane immigration policy. The group has advocated for the DREAM Act and the DREAMers, Ag Jobs, and universal drivers’ licenses. The tactics of the working group are to foster alliances among community organizations, schools, churches, small businesses, law enforcement agencies and other groups impacted by our broken immigration system.”


The Jobs Working Group is co-chaired by Yvette Salinas of La Unión del Pueblo Entero and Rose San Luis of Domesticas del Valle. Salinas and San Luis said:

“The exploitation of the lowest paid workers in the United States of America has been a sad legacy of the Rio Grande Valley. There has also been an extraordinary history of struggles to right this wrong, with organizations fighting to improve the lives of working families. Shortly after its formation, the Jobs Working Group created Fuerza del Valle, a Workers’ Center, and a space in which hourly wage workers could organize against the highest form of thievery in our region: the theft of wages.

“Fuerza’s mission is to help workers discover their power and create solutions to the problems they experience at work. We are a mobile center so that we can reach out to workers across the Valley’s vast geographical area.”


The LGBT Working Group is co-chaired by Kelsey Snapp of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Astid Dominguez of the ACLU-Texas. Snapp and Dominguez said:

“2015 saw great strides for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, including a Supreme Court decision confirming the right to marriage and countless advances by administrative agencies at the state and federal level. Despite these strides, the LGBT community still faces discrimination in almost all aspects of life, including housing, employment, and access to health care. Furthermore, some political groups are organizing to legalize this discrimination under so called ‘Religious Freedom’ bills at the state level.

“The Equal Voice Network’s LGBT group seeks to empower and advocate for the LGBT community through the use of policy analysis, education, and training.”