Leaders

She came back to South Florida to level the playing field and give a voice to the voiceless

Andrea Mercado of The New Florida Majority, photographed at the Miami Workers Center. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.
Andrea Mercado of The New Florida Majority, photographed at the Miami Workers Center. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.

Andrea Mercado has made fighting injustice her life’s mission. Growing up in South Florida as the child of South American immigrants, she was angered by the inequality she saw in her community. She recalls hate-filled graffiti on the walls of her high school, and friends who couldn’t get after-school jobs or look forward to attending college because they were undocumented.

She knew she wanted to create change. This month marks her first anniversary as Executive Director of The New Florida Majority, an organization that empowers marginalized communities in racial, economic and political circles.

After graduating from Brown University, Mercado spent a decade in California working with immigrant organizations, focusing mainly on how state and national policies affect women and children.

“The immigrant experience always interested me because of my own family experience,” she said. “I knew I wanted to work with people who were navigating the hardships of it but were also celebrating their culture.”

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Andrea Mercado. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas.

Andrea Mercado Fights for Workers’ Rights

While in California, she co-founded the National Domestic Workers Alliance and helped get the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights passed in seven states, legislation that won the right to overtime for 2 million people, many of them women.

Mercado moved back to South Florida five years ago so she and her husband could raise their two daughters near her extended family. She also took the reins of a National Domestic Workers Alliance chapter here.

When Pope Francis visited Washington in 2015, Mercado organized and led a pilgrimage of 100 women walking 100 miles from an immigrant detention center in Pennsylvania to the nation’s capital. “It seemed like a really important moment to highlight the pain of the immigrant experience that’s caused by national policies,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to work with people who were navigating the hardships of it but were also celebrating their culture.”

After the 2016 election, Mercado was appalled at how many people failed to vote. As head of The New Florida Majority, one of her goals is to get more minorities to the polls. Through neighborhood canvassing, the organization expects to register 30,000 potential new voters this year.

“If Latinos and black people registered to vote at the same rates as their white counterparts, it would mean an additional 300,000 votes in Florida,” she said. “It’s about expanding democracy and racial equity.”

Now is Time to Consider the Future

After Hurricane Irma, her team established a statewide coalition, securing $1.5 million to help the most vulnerable. They also walked the streets of minority neighborhoods themselves, knocking on doors to find individuals and families who needed help.

Mercado remembered one young woman who had cooked the last of her food to share with neighbors, and no longer had milk for her own baby. “Something like that makes you ask, ‘How can we do better?’” she said.

Although she talks to her children about frightening events that happen in the world, she can’t always calm their fears. After the school massacre in Parkland, her 6-year-old announced that she didn’t ever want to attend high school.

“We need to think about future generations,” Mercado said, “and the world and the democracy they’re inheriting.”

More: People who move Miami.

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