There are women in the world who make it their mission to touch the lives of other people. Others receive leadership and use that as their guiding light. However, there are some people lucky enough to spend their lives doing both. Montserrat Garibay is one of those people: she has taken the mentorship of others and turned it into mentorship of her own.
Born in Mexico, Montserrat immigrated to Texas with her mother and sister thirty years ago. Her family grew up as undocumented immigrants, and while she and her sister were students at the University of Texas they started one of the first organizations for themselves and fellow “Dreamers” on campus. They worked tirelessly to share resources and help undocumented students learn about the different options they have to attend college. After becoming a United States citizen, Montserrat became a bilingual educator and then Vice President of a teachers’ union in Austin, where she began her fight for the labor rights of Texans.
Role models have always been an integral part of Montserrat’s life. She refers to her female mentors as her “guardian angels”-- people who have always been supportive figures throughout her journey as a student, teacher, and activist. The first angel is her mother, a woman who made the ultimate sacrifice by taking her young daughters to Texas to give them better opportunities. In grade school, Montserrat’s English teacher Mrs. Hernandez played a formative role in her life by being the first person to give her “a world to imagine she could be anything she wanted.” Mrs. Hernandez was also her inspiration to become a bilingual educator, and Montserrat later taught Pre-K for eight years.
As the first Latina immigrant to become secretary treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO, Montserrat encountered many challenges and areas she could help the organization improve. Most of the officers were white men, so Montserrat was able to provide a voice for both women and immigrants who may need different things to achieve equity. For example, through the women’s committee, they passed different resolutions to prioritize the needs of working women, especially women’s healthcare. In a similar way, Montserrat considers her greatest accomplishment to be the formation of citizenship clinics through her work with the Texas AFL-CIO. Because of her involvement, there are now free clinics to help qualifying legal permanent residents find a pathway to citizenship in eight different cities across Texas. She emotionally shares stories of people she met at these clinics who now have full citizenship and send her selfies during election season with their “I Voted” stickers -- proudly celebrating their citizenship and making sure she knows how thankful they are for her mentorship.
Currently, Montserrat works under President Biden’s Secretary of Education as Senior Advisor for Labor Relations, a liaison between labor unions and the federal government. When asked what advice she would give to the next generation of women and femmes in politics, she said we should share our stories in a way that allows others to know that we are human. She says that anyone looking to pursue a career in activism should look for mentors and mentor others because that is how people are inspired and progress is made.