By Drew Myron
Martha Verduzco rallies for change
Even without a megaphone, Martha Verduzco commands a crowd—not because she is loud, but because she is driven, energized, and working hard for change.
A leader in Hood River’s Latino community, Martha has been called a true force in the Gorge.
“Martha is fire, and she is passionate about the community,” says Amber Orion, a community organizer who has worked with Martha on marches and hunger strikes around social justice issues. “She is one of the fiercest organizers I work with.”
Martha stands at the forefront of most every action for racial justice in the Columbia Gorge. She is a founding member and the leader of the Hood River Latino Network, an advocacy and resource organization; a leader of Gorge ICE Resistance, a coalition working to stop the practice of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding immigrant detainees at the regional jail in The Dalles; and is chair of the Rural Organizing Project, a statewide organization supporting social justice issues.
In one moment, Martha can rally a crowd of hundreds to protest injustice. In the next moment, she gently comforts an immigrant confused by the court system.
Martha works as an administrative assistant for Carpenters Local 1503—a job in which she helps protect the rights of more than 4,000 union members. In her off-hours, she organizes a festival showcasing local Latino culture.
Among all the volunteer roles and work responsibilities, Martha returns to her home: a serene 6-acre farm in Parkdale, where she lives with her husband, Gabe; and children Alexander, 7; Ángel, 18; and Monique, 20.
In many ways, Martha, 42, was born an activist. For her birth, Martha’s parents— who emigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, to Hood River—crossed into Washington to see the area’s only Latino doctor.
Martha’s parents still live in the Hood River Valley. Her father is a janitor for the Hood River School District, and her
mother is a packer at Diamond Fruit Growers.
Since childhood, Martha has witnessed her family and friends face issues related to housing, employment, and myriad everyday issues—from the inability to obtain photo identification to overcoming language hurdles.
It’s no surprise Martha was compelled to step up.
“I’ve always been a helper,” she says. “I’m a humanitarian at heart. I love to help people. I think that’s my purpose in life.”
In 2016, Jose Bibian asked Martha to help orchestrate A Day Without Immigrants—a local march that was part of a national movement to protest federal immigration policies. Organized in just two days, 240 people showed up in the rain to walk 2 miles across Hood River in support of immigrant rights.
Latinos comprise nearly one-third of Hood River County’s population. Latino influence is particularly noticeable in the Hood River Valley, where agriculture is fueled by Latino labor.
“We are a big part of this community,” Martha says. “We have a large percentage of people of color, and we have a lot of racism—hidden racism.”
In 2017, Martha and a group of friends formed the Hood River Latino Network. The advocacy group provides support to Latinos and people of color in the Gorge. The network connects members with resources, often partnering with local nonprofit organizations, such as The Next Door, One Community Health, and FISH food bank. The network was founded by Jose, Samuel Murillo, Arturo Leyva, Patricia Verduzco, and Monica Romero.
“We felt people were calling out for community help and empowerment,” Martha says. “We hope our group makes people feel like there’s a little bit of hope— that they’re not helpless, not hopeless.”
Martha is the first to take the lead to help Latinos, says Arturo, a local music producer and a member of the network.
“Martha’s voice is very important,” he says. “She is passionate about serving and bothered by injustices. I believe that voices like Martha’s are vital in our community and our democracy.”
Increasingly, Martha’s voice is mobilizing a larger community. In July, a Black Lives Matter protest in Odell drew more than 60 people—a mix of whites and Latinos—in a show of support for racial justice and reform. Martha says the turnout was encouraging.
“We’re so thankful for the allies who stand with us,” she says. “We didn’t know how many allies we had—people in our community that want better things for us.”
Martha dreams of creating a community resource center—a place of information and opportunities “where people feel comfortable and free,” she says.
She elaborates on Rural Roots Rising, a monthly podcast created by Rural Organizing Project:
“I wish there was a place where my mom could have gone when she felt that they weren’t treating them well at the packing house, or my dad when he was being yelled at by his foreman,” she says. “I wish there was a place a person could go to, someone who they could trust, and at least hear them out. Sometimes just being able to talk about what’s going on gives you relief.”
For now, Martha is working hard for a brighter future.
“I’m doing all of this for my family— for my children—so that my kids can live in a better world,” she says. “That’s what we all want for our kids, right?”