*Interview with Anita Diaz conducted in Spanish
*Additional interviews conducted in English
Anita Diaz says she’s always had a desire to fight for what’s right and against injustices.
And as a Latina immigrant, she says she encounters injustices in almost all aspects of her life. She also describes herself as a “millonario del amor” a millionaire of love.
Of all the injustices undocumented immigrants face in the United States, Diaz says, the most significant is denial of health care.
“No estoy en contra de los medicos, estoy en contra de la sistema.”
Translation: I am not against the doctors. I am against the system.
Diaz says she speaks basic English, but when she talks about the organization that means so much to her, she says her English doesn’t serve it justice. She says she feels so passionately about it, speaking Spanish is the only way she can accurately express her emotions.
Diaz, who lives in Durham, is the founder of Sembrando una Semilla, which translates to Planting a Seed. The name stems from the idea of planting a seed for change and progress. Established in March 2015, the organization works to spread awareness of injustices and issues facing undocumented immigrants in North Carolina.
When a family friend needed a kidney transplant, but couldn’t be considered as a candidate, Diaz started the organization. She decided to take action and start a campaign, with the ultimate goal to change what she calls a racist system.
The group’s main objective is to make a difference in organ donation list denial, the issue that sparked the organization’s establishment.
In North Carolina, undocumented immigrants can’t be registered on the Organ Donation and Transplantation list. This means those suffering from organ failure can’t be considered as candidates to receive a deceased individual’s organ if it were to become available, even if the individual is a “perfect match” in terms of genetics or blood type.
Diaz says people who could lead perfectly happy and healthy lives if they were to receive an organ transplant are dying every day, simply because they can’t be considered transplant candidates.
“Nostotros empezamos en Carolina del Norte, pero se afecta casi todo de los Estados Unidos.”
Translation: We are starting in North Carolina, but the issue affects almost all of the United States.
“Obviamente, va a empezar años de trabajo. Primer, salir el silencio. Segundo, comunicarnos a la comunidad. Tercero, ganar.”
Translation: Obviously, this is the beginning of years of work. First, the goal is to end the silence. Second, we will communicate our needs to the community. And third, we will win (succeed in changing legislation.)
With hard work, she believes Sembrando una Semilla can influence change and inspire others in the Latino community to speak out against injustices.
“En el mundo hay gente buena. El problema es solamente hay personas que no piensan pueden cambiarla,” Diaz says. “Las personas estan en silencio.”
Translation: In the world, there are good people. The problem is only that there are people who do not think they can create change. They are silent.
A 2008 study by the American Medical Association called organ donation a “one-way street” for undocumented individuals. In the 20-year study, it concluded that non-citizens in the United States donated 2.5 percent of organs, but they received less than 1 percent of organ donations.
Some states are fighting against that statistic with legislation that classifies denial of candidacy on a transplant waiting list as a denial of basic human rights, similar to denying an individual care in an emergency room.
Just last year, Illinois passed a state law which would provide funding and access to kidney transplants, and the necessary associated drugs to maintain the organs, regardless of an individual’s legal status.
And while health care funding is something Diaz also considers, right now, Sembrando una Semilla focuses mainly on candidacy of undocumented immigrants on the organ donation list.
“Es nuestra visión para salvar la comunidad y cualquier persona que podemos,” Diaz says. “Pero no es importante solo en este comunidad. Es importante es todo, en el nivel nacional.”
Translation: It’s our vision to help this community and whoever we can. But it isn’t only important in this community. It is important everyone, at the national level.
Alfredo Camano lives in Cary, but he drives to Durham multiple times a week to assist Diaz and the organization. His main responsibility is handling any camera or video equipment to create messages and spread the organization’s message, as well as maintaining its social media accounts.
“I always want to support and be here for everything that we do. I don’t mind always driving to Durham from Cary,” Camano says. “I joined last year, and I just loved how they help people. My mother passed away years ago from Leukemia back in Mexico.”
And now that his brother in Mexico has cancer as well, he’s he all too familiar with unfair health care systems and wants to do anything possible to fight against them.
“I had to deal with the system back in Mexico,” he says. “Most of the time in Mexico, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the care. When I help Anita and this organization, I picture myself helping my brother back in Mexico.”
While he finds advocating for new legislation to be important, Camano says he finds it more important to advocate for live organ donation, especially for the Latino community. Legislation for change will take time to pass, and there are people in need of transplants now. Live organ donation is their only option.
“The future for us is to keep educating people why it is very important to be a donor while you are alive,” he says. “It doesn’t matter your religion, your country, we can come together as a unit and support the person who needs it in that moment.”
But he doesn’t deny the importance of fighting for change.
“We do need to fight the system here in North Carolina to pass that bill that every single undocumented person can be allowed to the waiting list for the organ transplant.”
Eliab Cortez, a Raleigh resident, met Anita through church and was inspired by her dedication to helping the Latino community. His main responsibility is driving organization members to and from different sites to educate people.
He says there are members in all regions of the Triangle. He finds himself driving to Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
He said often the most important thing is educating people that live organ donation is healthy and safe, and saving a life is possible.
“People don’t understand and they think if they donate their organs, something bad is going to happen, and they are going to die,” Cortez says. “We are trying to explain that nothing is going to happen and you can live a healthy normal life and help someone else.”
The organization has also been successful in helping individuals as well as educate them.
When a tree struck 31-year-old Wendy Colindres’s car two weeks ago, paramedics rushed her to Duke Hospital, where doctors declared her brain dead shortly after. Diaz knew the family, which had originally wanted to fight for allowing donation of her organs to undocumented immigrants.
When officials denied the family’s request, instead of being frustrated by the system, Diaz decided the organization would rally around the family with support. In just six days, by utilizing its Facebook page and a GoFundMe account, it was able to raise 10,000 dollars, paying for her funeral.
“Everyone needs help at some point in their life,” Cortez says. “I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her family. But I feel like people have helped my family, so I should help back.”
Diaz explains her “lucha” purpose.
“Mi madre murió en Mexico, murió de cancer. No tuve el dinero o la oportunidad por ayudar mi madre,” Diaz says. “Entonces, cuando veo personas enfermas, veo mi madre y quiero ayudar y quiero dar esperanza.”
Translation: My mother died of cancer in Mexico. I didn’t have money or the opportunity to help my mother. And for that, when I see sick people, I see my mother and I want to help and give hope.
She takes a deep breath and wipes a tear from her cheek.
“Tengo un corozón. Tengo sentimientos. Tengo hijos. Tengo una familia, y también estoy luchando.”
Translation: I have a heart. I have feelings. I have children. I have a family, and I am fighting.