Julissa Ponce and Katherine Chon

Recorded June 8, 2021 Archived June 7, 2021 43:13 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv000854


Julissa Ponce (38) speaks with her colleague in anti-trafficking work, Katherine Chon [no age given], about her family's experience with labor exploitation, the impact of her parents' advocacy in her life, and the loss of her father this past year. Julissa speaks about the misunderstandings when it comes to trafficking and shares her hopes for the future of anti-trafficking work.

Subject Log / Time Code

Julissa talks about the labor exploitation she and her family experienced.
Julissa shares a memory of standing up for an injustice she witnessed working in the fields one day.
Julissa talks about the "hierarchy of trauma" in anti-trafficking spaces. She shares her hopes for the future of anti-trafficking work: "We need to walk together."
Julissa talks about her mother and the work she's done for survivors. She remembers her father, who died in April of this year.
Julissa talks about her father's work establishing a bilingual radio station locally in Illinois.
Julissa shares what she would ask her father if he were still alive today.
Julissa talks about how misunderstood labor trafficking is and shares what she thinks it would take for people to acknowledge it for what it is.
Julissa speaks to her grandson in the future, reflecting on the impact of her fathers' work on the legacy of her family.


  • Julissa Ponce
  • Katherine Chon

Recording Location

Virtual Recording


Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:01 Hi, my name is Katherine Chon. Today's date is Tuesday, June 8th, 2021. I am in Washington DC and my recording partner today is beliefs upon say and she is a colleague and we work on the issue of human trafficking together.

00:23 How do I just introduce myself?

00:27 Okay, my name is Julissa. Ponce a I am 38 years old. Today's date is June 8th, 2021. I am in Moline, Illinois, and my recording partner is Katherine John. And we are colleagues.

00:42 All right. Well who we said thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule today. I know that it's so rare these days to be able to just have a conversation for the sake of having a conversation and we're so excited that you are participating. In this effort, to commemorate the progress made in the anti-trafficking, feels the US, the United States, its twenty years into it. There is a lot more to go and I am I just appreciate the opportunity to hear more about your perspectives, your moments of inspiration, your people of inspiration. And and so just as an introduction of what connects us who he said, you liked my understanding of our connection is through.

01:42 The sharing of your subject matter expertise in the way in building capacity for this. Be able to understand labor trafficking better. We have our office through the office on trafficking in persons. We work together to provide technical assistance in which include like webinar series, but you have would you like to introduce how you got involved in this work? And what inspired you to be so involved in working to prevent sand address human trafficking?

02:27 Sure, I would have to say that officially, I have been working within the anti-trafficking movement field. However, you want to say it for about 8 years, but in all actuality, it's been my entire life as a person. I have lived experience in, not just the agricultural field as a minor, but as a young adult with janitorial services and then even as an adult working in the nonprofit sector in the anti-trafficking field, so my whole life has been surrounded by

03:06 Buy some form of Labor, exploitation, my father, and my mother would have to be my greatest examples of not just strength and resiliency, but leadership. My father came here. Not not knowing a word of English from Mexico. He was recruited came to the US with a promise of being an engineer making farm equipment. And in the end, they paid him as a janitor and stole his ideas. And this was before the TV PA. So this was 1968 and he instilled in me, a work ethic of

03:45 Always show up and regardless of how people are treating you, you do your best and I guess if that's that mentality, that kind of

03:58 I don't want to say, creates a boner ability, but it also leaves us not understanding trafficking in its most.

04:10 Basic sense. And that is where we're here. Working. So went when I say, I've been in it my whole life I have, I was a 12 13 year old girl picking onions and the field of texts. And I traveled with my family. I, I was born here in Illinois, just because my family was here, my father, then moved here, and then he brought my mother and she's from Texas. But on her family, we have eight generations of Migrant workers. And as I look back, just on our own oral histories. I don't think that there has been a generation that has an experience some form of Labor exploitation.

04:53 The sad part about it is that we're 20 years in and I'm the first generation to have been protected by the TV PA and yet I still have experienced my own type of experience and trafficking. So

05:09 I guess that's a trick question, eight years or 38 years. I don't know cuz my mom had me in the field working with her as well.

05:22 Alyssa, your you mentioned, both your mother, and father, and their influences, on your life, whether it's work ethic or other values. Do you have any stories or memories of when was it? When you first felt empowered to do something when you, if you saw something wrong about a situation?

05:54 I was.

05:58 Probably 14 years old and I was literally walking out a of my own experience like there. There. There was my own experience that had just happened and I remember seeing an elderly woman in Eagle Pass, Texas. And I remember seeing the true leaders kick her down because she wasn't able to feel the, the onions. And I went and I called the Constable with kind of would be like a like a police officer, but that was the first time when I realized that we didn't have to endure what we were going on. And I'm an American citizen. The lady was an American citizen. So we did, it doesn't just happen to foreign Nationals that happens to to absolutely everyone.

06:53 So yeah, I would have to say I was about fourteen years old when I realized that I had a boys and I could speak for those who are too afraid to speak.

07:04 And what was it? Were there any other? How did you?

07:12 Gain, the courage to act in that moment.

07:17 My dad had taken me to go. See such obvious when I was about 10 and I did my first boycott with him, and his words gave me courage and seeing my dad's stand there with him in front of farms, with being threatened, and being there with him, and my dad had me behind his, like, he kind of pushed me behind him to make sure nothing happened. But where they were threatening us with hoses like that, the big fire hoses. I just remembered that that we had rights as well. The hit his words. My dad's words were the ones that resonated with me that said you can speak up because there is a whole line of people behind you that are going to stand up with you.

08:11 And reflecting on some of your more recent experiences in the anti-trafficking. Feel. Do you feel that same sense of community camaraderie, that there are lines of people standing with you and behind you.

08:32 Unfortunately, no.

08:35 We we have created a hierarchy of trauma within the survivors within the movement. There is always a, a a line of whether it's sex trafficking or labor trafficking. And it's, it's almost like we're being pitted against each other for resources. I myself, couldn't even identify as a survivor of trafficking and it wasn't until about five years ago that I could.

09:04 I actually identify because there was nobody that look like me, there was nobody that I could identify with it was that there has been sold and don't get me wrong. There's this robust network of sex trafficking, Survivor resources, but yet we have. So little when it comes to labor trafficking and and in fact, when we do create those higher keys or trauma, we are, in fact, creating the same power and control Dynamic that an abuser creates with their with the people that they're abusing. So at the moment, I think that that is one of the things that we have to work on. We need to really stop the sex in the labor trafficking and just call human trafficking. Because what it is is that people are getting traffic for a services that they provide two others that don't benefit themselves.

09:56 Another thing would be that there is so much systemic oppression that you cannot talk about human trafficking, without actually opening. That Floodgate that Pandora's box of systemic oppression, racism, poverty, all of those things that leave us vulnerable that we refuse to either of knowledge. Or whether or when we do confront.

10:23 People with with when we're calling it out when we're coming out saviorism and we were calling out whether you know, it had you're treating me differently because I don't fit the actual narrative that you want. I don't fit the description of the Survivor that you think is Worthy.

10:39 It's it's hard. And as much as I respect the movement as much as it will, always hold a place in my heart. We need to do better because now we have generations of children who are still exposed. We can't prevent trafficking because that would insinuate that the Survivor or the victim would have

10:59 Some type of control over it. The only thing we can do is educate future generations to be able to see it and call it out because it's the only way it's going to stop.

11:10 And when you think about your experiences in, in this movement, however, you define the time. And then think back to some of your early.

11:28 Exposure to

11:32 Efforts addressing Farm worker rights and their health and well-being. And the boycotts that you mentioned. Are there any parallels that you've experienced recently? That have been empowering? Are there other are there Lessons Learned From historical social movements that you wish you saw more of today.

11:58 I wish that we had more of the

12:06 The ability to.

12:10 Walk together in a group instead of somebody always trying to walk ahead. We need to walk beside each other. Cuz that's what really made changes. Whether it was the Civil Rights Movement, whether it was the Chicano movement whether was the migrant worker movement, the Farm Workers movement, all of those. We walked together and right now, people are just trying to get to Paces ahead of somebody else. Whether it be for for their own, you know, Spotlight that this isn't about individual spotlights. This isn't about individual growth. I have five children and I have a grandson and I, I need to make sure that they don't experience the same things that I did the same things that my parents did. And, and that's the only difference is that when we had movements, it was for a movement of change. And right now we're just we're still trying to educate people. Within the movement. We're still trying to educate people on why

13:05 We need to make some changes to the TV PA while the end. This is just one change that. People should try to listen to, so should shouldn't close your mind off while we have minors who are absolutely, you know, 100% protected when it comes to sex trafficking or commercial sex industry. We don't have the same protections for minor children who are working and they still have to prove Force Friedrich origin and it should be equal. It would they should have the same protections even within our laws that protect us. There's still that hire written in within that law. And so when we can get one hundred percent behind that and we can all walk alongside each other. I think that's when we'll really start to see these changes because right now,

13:55 With stagnant right now. There's a lot of people and including myself because I'm part of the movement as well. There's equal trips and I think the sooner we can we can walk together and walk with side bows that are ready to come forward and disclose, and to seek out help because we're not here to save people. Nobody. Nobody wants a savior to come in and swoop them up and and protect them and shield them from everything. We want to be able to work on our own accord. We want to be able to live on our own accord, and we want to be able to, to say,

14:31 I found my own strength. Nobody had to get it for me.

14:37 What do you think would be different if in this field? There was more of that walking alongside together like practically, what would that look like? And what does it mean to be an ally and

14:54 What would be different if if those ideals were to actually live itself out? I would say.

15:05 Once we can get behind each other.

15:11 That the best thing I can think of is, do you remember when we see these videos are these moves of Spartans going to war or something? They have their backs towards each other. So they're protecting each other 100% once we can do that.

15:28 We can literally go to war with trafficking because right now we are too busy looking forward and watching our own backs to see how exactly we're going to be able to protect each other. One moment. Somebody's trying to come in.

15:48 I mean, if you guys have to go around the back.

15:56 Sorry, Maya. My mom just got here from Texas. So they're unloading her stuff.

16:02 Oh, it's so great with family. So she decided to show up three days early. So surprise surprise family. She brought my brother and my two nephews and

16:20 Some random person that I don't know. I'm assuming that it's some related. Some, I don't know, but he'll be here in my living room here soon. So I'm curious to Lisa, your, your mom, you spoke of your mom earlier and I imagine she knows of the work that you do right now. Like what what does she think of? Yeah, when you when you think back to the generations of Migrant work in your family, like how does sheet what's her understanding of what you do or so, my mom?

16:59 Is the reason that I do what I do, she started working with the Illinois, migrant Council back in 1971. And the reason I know misbah and the reason I know Place allows is because of her. She is.

17:21 She sits here, and she, she says, look at everything. You've done. What we could only dream.

17:28 You're doing and I said if it's not that we're doing, is they have paved, the road for us. We're just laying more bricks. We're just making that rode longer for future generations. And she is honestly, one of the biggest Inspirations this is better sweet because my, my father actually passed away April 5th due to covid. And when I had originally gotten this email, I have was going to have him be my interviewer because it was something of that moment of

18:05 The daughter of an immigrant who was only good enough in the United States to be drafted into the army during Vietnam. And then otherwise, he was pushed aside and Sean and how both he and my mom.

18:19 Beat almost every every battle that that that came towards them. And even though they divorced, they were still like that power. Dynamic duo, that they both became drug and alcohol abuse counselors. They both worked heavily in the in the migrant consoles. And even though they each have another husband, and another wife. They were the ones who taught me that you can continue. And when my dad was too afraid, before he got his papers, when he was too afraid to even stand up. My mom was stand up for him because

18:55 She was born here and she would say now that I have your attention to that, her famous phrase was now that I have your attention, listen to this person. And she just sat back and I think that is the biggest thing that allies can do for.

19:12 First four people has lived experience because I don't need somebody to speak for me. I don't want to have to speak for anyone. But I will, I will have that megaphone out there and I will yell to get everybody's attention and hand that Mike over to somebody else so that they can get off what they need to get off their chest and it because there's too many voices. There's too many, too many people out there that are now, finally getting educated and that are now finally able to identify. There were so many barriers to identification before that. Now, once we start saying, yes, that is wrong. You were exploited. You were, you were, you were traumatized. You were abused and whatever way that they want to accept that.

19:57 They have a, they have a place and that's beside us. So sorry. I kind of went off cuz he started talking about my mom and my dad and it gets me emotional there. They're the reason.

20:11 I am thinking about your father right now and

20:18 And the life that he lived in the Legacy. And its I, I had not realized that he was your intended, conversation partner, and I hope that this conversation is honoring of him and in your relationship with him. And I feel so honored to be in this place went, and I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your father.

20:52 And I think I didn't know him, but I think he would be very very proud of how much you're advocating and creating attention. Thank you for

21:13 So, I don't know. I am so not having known your father, you know, his spirit is with us. Definitely and

21:29 Well, I asked the question about your mother and what she thinks of the work that you have been doing and your leadership on this issue. How what do you think your father would be saying now or what kinds of questions? Do you think you'd be asking you on this conversation? A little known fact about my father. Is he started the first bilingual radio station here in the Quad Cities, Illinois has

22:01 A long history of having a Sundown cities and my father was just dark enough to fall into that. And so he would literally risk his life to go every Saturday and to radio station, the radio station so far about 42 years. He was a volunteer DJ at one of the radio stations locally here and I can, I can almost guarantee that he would have had

22:33 At least 15 questions for me that. I wouldn't have known how to answer because I'm just not as he said.

22:45 Interview of Bowl as he is and he would, he would be like, and these are his words and I'm going to say them in Spanish. It would be like

22:57 That is game of Mita.

23:00 Banda recodo, canto.

23:05 Even get us with saddles.

23:08 Alfonsinas La Voz de la plataforma.

23:12 Then that's what it's how you that none of my supposed to use.

23:19 And that is the one thing.

23:23 That gives me strength right now because

23:27 My father passed away of covid. And

23:33 I am the one who made the decision to let him go in peace after 30 days of being on a ventilator. So

23:42 He is he is here. Literally in the room with me right now. I have his urn given me strength, so.

23:53 I would I hope that I'm making him proud because I wouldn't have this voice without him and my mom.

24:04 Thank you for sharing some of his words.

24:09 As they're spoken through you and live through you.

24:17 I am.

24:22 So you are saying, you know, your father would likely ask you so many questions and you made that you may not necessarily have answers to. Are there any questions that you would have asked of him more question? Memories of questions, you've asked of him in the past that you were that surprised you? Or I'm stuck with you over these years.

24:54 I would have, I would have asked him.

24:59 Once.

25:02 Once you were able to leave your situation because one once I explain to him what exploitation and what labor trafficking was

25:12 It's very hard for Mexican man, to accept defeat and to accept vulnerability and he cried and he broke down and

25:25 I would ask him.

25:29 What made you use?

25:32 All of your energy not just to

25:37 Quit drinking.

25:40 But to turn your life around so much that you started. The first bilingual schools. You started the first bilingual AA groups. You started the first bilingual.

25:54 A radio station. How did doing mom?

25:58 Find strength because I have yet to realize or or for them to tell me.

26:05 Where that strength came from because I've hit rock bottom. I've been without housing, I have been where I am splitting sandwiches, to make sure that my kids have enough to eat.

26:19 How did they continue that fight? Had like, I just wish that they, there was this magic formula that him, and my mom could have given me.

26:30 And said, this is how how we know just bottle it up and give it to everybody. We come across because this is, this is how you keep going. And I don't know. I don't know how he did it. And the other question I would honestly ask was what, what made him think that taking an eight-year-old to a protest was a good idea.

26:54 Honestly, I mean, don't get me wrong. I love it. One hundred percent is one of the most cherished memories that I have. I remember standing outside of Eagle Warehouse here, which is one of the local grocery stores and boycotting the grapes, you know, I was this alone little kid with a bunch of like my my cousins and and there was no adults. My dad helped me, write out the signs and then we just stood there and

27:24 Tell them not to buy grapes.

27:27 Well, then why? And I just don't understand.

27:33 Why he took me to a protest at 8, but

27:40 I guess he was just again Paving the path for us.

27:45 When you are eight years old and at that protest, where did you think you were or even hearing the words of you know that you have a voice? Like what was your understanding of that at the time? Like as an eight-year-old? Like how how did you experience that events? What?

28:07 I saw.

28:10 The video of his of Cesar Chavez. It was a no grapes.

28:16 And how he brought migrant workers.

28:21 With him and how their children were born with. It wasn't just cleft palates or clubfoot. It was leukemia. It was skin cancers.

28:35 With her heart outside of their chests or their intestines outside of their stomach. These were real people. This wasn't propaganda. This was how can we get them not to make it easier for us, but just not to make it dangerous for us. They weren't asking for anything except safety. And I remember being little and wondering why these little kids were sick and then having them explain to me. And it's because the stuff that they were touching was making them sick.

29:15 And it just stuck with me because I'm a Shriners child. I, my mom, like I had said his drug and alcohol abuse counselor. And when she was working, someone pushed her down, when she was seven months pregnant with me and she fell on her stomach and it broke my collarbone and though it completely dislocated. So my my left shoulder I was born with it shattered. And so I had to go to the Shriners until I was

29:47 818 years old, so that they could, I had multiple surgeries to fix it. And so I was, I had always seen kids who had been sick, but none of them who had never gotten help because at the Shriners, it's like, Saint Jude's, none of the parent ever pay. There's no Transportation costs that there's nothing. And here these kids, they, they had to eat the same food that was filled with pesticide that they were planting and they were getting sick because I was the only food they had

30:25 So when they explain it to me, I just remember her saying.

30:34 I don't want a kid to have to go through as many surgeries as I went through. If they don't have to, if they have a chance at being born healthy.

30:42 Why is it so hard? They weren't saying they wanted more pay. They weren't what they deserve more pay. But that they just, they just wanted to be safe. That's all the ladies were saying because it was mostly ladies who were working there. They said, get him his weed eater. And that was we want to live and work like with some sort of security and that I just

31:09 I don't know. I ate. That was the one thing because and the video, the set Travis video, that was no grapes. I actually have the VHS copy of it.

31:23 Do you think Eliza that the average person in the United States understands?

31:33 The work, the service, the sacrifice of Migrant families. And

31:41 Being part of

31:45 The economy that keeps this country moving and especially during the pandemic with so much of the essential services, and food production and ends. Do you think the average person understands?

32:02 No.

32:04 And the reason is because most most people in the US, don't even understand that labor trafficking exist.

32:16 Labor.

32:19 Labor trafficking is a spectrum. It is from something as small as the exploitation of you. Don't get along with your worker and they bully you because you know that that's hostile work environment. If they're constantly, they just don't like you. You you you guys grab each other the wrong way.

32:40 To the

32:47 The person being chained to a, a facility to, to something. There's that whole Spectrum in between there, that people don't realize that exist. And the reason we don't realize it is because the movement for so long has perpetuated the same myth or even justify the the the overly sensationalized pictures where if it's not one thing and you don't follow that. The other thing doesn't exist. So no, they they don't know how hard it is to keep food at Whole Foods at Aldi at Walmart at Albertson's because their experience with food goes from the grocery store.

33:35 To the refrigerator at home and it's not just migrant workers. It's it's the truckers who are, you know, transporting that food?

33:47 It's it's the agworkers that are producing the chicken that the eggs are the the kill floors at the meat processing plants that were completely 100% put in a hostile work environment. Just in 2020, where they were still forced to go to work or lose their jobs, even though it risked their lives, because

34:13 It was covid. And

34:16 We still need to meet. We were still eating. We were doordashing. We were GrubHub eating or we were just ordering groceries online, but we were still eating. So that means that a man never ended. The demand for supplies never ends.

34:37 What do you think it would take for people to have a better understanding?

34:43 Of the working conditions, the labor conditions to

34:50 Care more for the health and well-being of

34:55 Of the families and individuals in the work force behind the food on our kitchen tables.

35:07 I would want somebody to spend 1 hour. I'm not even asking for a whole day because most people aren't prepared and their bodies. Can't handle it 1 hour.

35:17 I was 12 years old and I was pulling a basket that probably outweighed Me by one and a half. And I wrapped a rope around my waist and I would pick up onion and toss them behind me into this big cardboard box, that was on a pallet and I would pull it behind me, one day of scene, 12 year olds doing that. Because while 14 is the usual age, limit for being able to go work out in the field. If you own your own, Farmstead, you can have your children working had an inch.

35:57 So go see those kids out there, go see those that the elderly. Go, see the ones that says, have Travis was talking about that had their legs amputated or their arms and they're still out there working.

36:14 And,

36:19 I'm just so thankful for our time together. I I have so many more questions for you and I'm thinking. Alright. So here we are, whether we Mark Time by Twenty Years of the trafficking victims protection act and having greater.

36:43 Parody of equal attention on all the different forms of trafficking.

36:51 Or are we Mark the time based on an individual's lived experience?

36:58 I'm or a families across the generations experience. If you think about your children and your grandchild into the future, perhaps listening to this conversation and your Reflections at this moment in time, what do you hope for them in that particular gender like point in time in the future? And what message would you want to leave for them?

37:33 I have my one grandson.

37:36 And I'm going to make his name famous because I named him name is Vicente. Jose if I could tell him in 20 years before.

37:48 Grandpa stumbled and fell so that I can walk so that you can run.

37:55 This is the time now. We're, we're finally educated and people are finally listening to us that he can change it. My son can change it with him. My son is only 19 years old.

38:10 And together with them being fully aware of, not just indicators, but if their own vulnerabilities,

38:21 They can run, they can run with this and hopefully we can really see an end.

38:27 In human trafficking.

38:29 Until then I'm going to be doing what I need to do for them.

38:36 Thank you for that message earlier. You also mentioned that example of movies of Spartans fighting in battle and having each other's backs to each other and facing forward together. And you've mentioned solidarity, the importance of that.

39:02 What is your hope for the feels?

39:07 In twenty years or what more do you think we can do practically to have much more of that?

39:17 Whether it's the Spartan or walking together, mine said,

39:23 How can we get there?

39:26 We need to leave our biases at the door.

39:30 Are our own.

39:33 Personal demons our own personal beliefs should not affect other people, just because you don't agree with something that somebody else is doing for a living doesn't mean that their Humanity Adams, human rights and human dignity are for everyone and you may not agree with my lifestyle. Somebody else may not agree with yours as long as we can leave, all of that at the door.

40:00 And come forward together one face, want one united front. That's, that's the goal because when we still keep saying, no, but you know what? I can't support you because you support this.

40:15 As long as it's not affecting somebody else's human dignity and their basic human rights, they're entitled to do what they want to do. Whether it's with their body, whether it's with their own belief systems or whether it's with their own spoken word.

40:29 That's, that's theirs in. That's the one thing that has been holding up. The movement is people's biases.

40:39 Not everybody believes the same thing and not everybody experiences. The trauma the same way.

40:45 My survivorship. So to say, doesn't end because somebody else experienced something worse than me.

40:53 It's the same and it's still valid.

40:58 Thank you so much, Lisa. I it's so heartening to know that you have family in your household, right in your house right now, and I'm so thankful that you have shared so many Reflections and remembrances of your father and his spirit and his teachings and just the way he lived, his life and sharing that I certainly with me today. During this time.

41:39 And I,

41:42 I'm so honored to be a Ally with you in this field and appreciate so much of the lessons that you've shared.

41:55 And I look forward to more of our work ahead. It's going to take a lot of us to have each other's backs. Yeah, it definitely is but I had a bunch of kids to kind of help me. So I'm training them. Well, in advocacy and anti-trafficking work. So what will have some support here soon. We we count on that generate the next checkers.

42:25 Well, thank you for your time to Lisa, and I'm very grateful, very honored, and touched and heartfelt ways. Thank you. And this, this was an honor. Like I said before, I had, I had no idea what this was about. And I hope that with the story with just my experience in itself, if they take nothing away.

42:55 Except for one thing, would be to listen to every person. Every person, stories different.

43:03 And just validate that that that would be the one thing.

43:08 Thank you.