The Excluded Workers Fund Launch Fair, which occupied Suydam Street between Knickerbocker and Irving Avenue yesterday, August 14, celebrated the historic $2.1 billion fund allocated to excluded workers by the state’s Department of Labor.

Workshops explained eligibility requirements, how to gather the necessary documents and how to navigate the application process online, while tables informed other members of the community on how to get involved. Food vendors selling empanadas, tacos, hot popcorn and tamales lined the road. 

Audience watches presentation for application workshops.
The application workshop covered who is considered an “excluded worker” and provided examples of necessary documentation.

Brayan Pagoada, youth organizer for Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH) and Make the Road New York member Sonia Castrejón, stage name Estrella Norteña, oversaw the introductions of the day’s speakers.

First, there was a moment of silence to honor the essential workers who passed away during the ongoing pandemic. 

“We know that those are our community members and we care about and see them. They have been fighting to keep our communities safe, so we want to honor and celebrate their work,” Pagoada told Bushwick Daily.    

Assemblywoman Maritza Davila of the 53rd District, an immigrant herself and long-time resident of Bushwick, made an appearance. She shared her own story of moving from Puerto Rico to the neighborhood as a young girl and facing financial insecurity as a single mother of three children before leaving the stage with a “¡Sí se pudo!” 

Maritza Davila and Estrella Norteña and Brayan Pagoada speak to a crowd in front of La Nacional.
“¡Sí se pudo!” declares Assemblywoman Maritza Davila (middle) alongside Estrella Norteña (left) and Brayan Pagoada (right).

The celebration comes after over a year of campaigning put together by numerous organizations and nonprofits.*

“For 15 months, it was the undocumented essential workers that had to be at the front of the line, risking their lives during the pandemic. In that time, we closed down bridges, protested, made more than 10,000 calls to legislators and ended with a 23-day hunger strike where undocumented women that take care of families — that clean homes — put their own lives at risk to support the community,” a spokesperson of the event told NY1 Noticias.    

The march circled the neighboring blocks. At the forefront, marchers held a giant check written for excluded workers and their families.

They were followed by a procession of dancers in traditional clothing with music provided by Sagrada Alteza and makeshift drums made from overturned buckets. 

“I’m a mother of two children, and I fight for them every day as any mother would. This fund will help us a lot. The fight continues, and I’m here to help a little: sing a song to lighten the atmosphere because today, we are happy,” said Norteña who sang renditions of “La Bamba” and “Oye” by Sonora Dinamita with her godson.

Marchers hold a banner that for "EXCLUDED WORKERS" for "FIFTEEN THOUSAND and 00/100" from the Department of Labor.
The march loops around the perimeter of Maria Hernandez Park.

“This is what community looks like,” Pagoada told Bushwick Daily. “We want everyone across the state to know about this fund, so we’re still looking for volunteers. I want this fund to run out of money not because no one applied, but because everyone did.” 

If you’d like to volunteer to assist immigrant communities with filling out the Excluded Workers Fund application, you can sign up here.  

*Organizations and nonprofits that made this fund possible include: The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition,  La Colmena, Domestic Workers United, Laundry Workers Center, Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, Street Vendor Project, Respond Crisis Translation, Citizen Action of New York and many more

Editor’s Note: Article was corrected on August 17 11:12 a.m. The person referred to in the fourth paragraph from the bottom was the godson of Castrejón, stage name Estrella Norteña, not her son.

All images courtesy of Allie Herrera. 

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