Our Stories

Markita Blanchard, public school janitor from Detroit, Michigan and SEIU Local 1 member

Markita, SEIU member

I had a fairytale childhood growing up on the westside of Detroit. My three brothers and I live in the same house we were raised in and where we now care for our 93-year-old mother.

Throughout my teenage years, I was surrounded by people who, on a daily basis, said that “Mexicans came to this country to steal our jobs!” Like many, I was brainwashed by rumors, fictions, and made-up stories to believe that immigrants were taking from us. I have since come to realize that this is a great myth, another lie to divide us and keep us from coming together.

I have advocated for civil rights my entire life, fighting for equal opportunity and protection. Both of my parents were union members, so I was taught early on to be a loyal union person and to fight for what is right. As a janitor at a local public school, I work side-by-side with people of color and immigrants who are even less fortunate than myself, people who take on any jobs necessary—ones that no one else is willing to do.

I see folks who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their children. They work hard and want the same basic things we all want: the freedom to live, love, and provide for our families. My neighbors and coworkers aren’t taking from us, they are contributing to this country and giving back to their communities. Immigrants deserve the same thing I deserve: a fair share and a fighting chance.

Today, my neighborhood is nothing like I remember it. My family is not exactly living paycheck to paycheck—but more like paycheck-and-a-half to paycheck. After breaking bread with my union sisters and brothers of color, I have a more sympathetic place in my heart for people trying to stay afloat in this “land of opportunity” without a life raft.

I met a union immigrant brother of mine, a young man who was detained and separated from his children. Now, when the doorbell rings, his children panic because they think someone is coming to take their dad away. It’s a terrible shame. No one should live in constant fear. Another union immigrant sister of mine is a doctor – a person of healing and compassion – who lost her job simply because her paperwork was late. People who come here become a vital entity to growing our economy.

I am inspired by their stories of struggle, sacrifice, and pain. That’s why I play a character at my union events, “One D Woman” (D for Detroit) because I’m committed to speak up against all injustice facing my fellow working class people. Every time there’s a rally or protest, “One D Woman” comes out in solidarity to demonstrate our power as one people, one community, one our Detroit. My character was born out of the One Detroit campaign started by Local 1 janitors in Detroit after winning a historic contract in 2018. The One Detroit campaign is centered around an effort to ensure that all hardworking Detroiters are invested in, beginning with having access to good union jobs that allow them to bargain for the pay and benefits they need to thrive amid the city’s resurgence.

During my travels to D.C. to advocate for immigrant justice, I’ve had a chance to talk to senators and share my viewpoint on how we should support our immigrant sisters and brothers and how they’re obligated to support us as well. I’m imploring everybody who reads my story to please pass on this message: Immigrants are crucial to America’s recovery. They are our friends, our neighbors, and are here to create stronger communities for all of us.