Founder, Coalition of Latino Leaders, CLILA
America Gruner was born in Mexico City. She has lived in Dalton, GA for the past 20 years. Previously she lived in California for 12 years as an undocumented immigrant. She’s very quiet regarding personal issues, but she transforms herself when it’s a matter of advocating for the community.
In 2006, she founded the Coalition of Latino Leaders, CLILA, a non-profit grassroots organization in Dalton, serving Whitfield and up Northwest Georgia counties, such as Murray, Gordon, Catoosa, Gilmer, etc. It’s an immigrant lead organization to raise awareness, mobilize, organize and empower each other to create change.
CLILA’s mission is to develop grassroots community leaders to represent the Latino community and to respond to the current challenges, advocate for civil rights. “Our philosophy is to recognize and develop the leader in each person who hasn't had such opportunity”, she said.
She holds a BA in Psychology and 1 year of Specialization in Group Therapy, both from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). In the US she has a Specialization in Human Resources Management from the University of Minnesota. Also 1 year of Addictions Counseling from East Los Angeles College.
She’s a qualified Medical Interpreter, and she has a combined experience of 32 years as an investigative reporter, columnist and proofreader. She also has about 30 years of experience as an executive translator in Mexico and California. Locally, she has provided professional, accurate and specialized translations for more than 14 years combined for Dalton Public Schools, Hamilton Medical Center, North Georgia Health District, and many others.
She has been very active as volunteer for different groups and activities in the community, not just for Latinos, she has served in many local boards, such as United Way, Community Development Corporation, Dalton Education Foundation, Professional Advisory Board from Social Work School at Dalton State College, North Georgia Regional Development Corporation Citizens Advisory Committee, The Georgia Project, Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce Emergent Leader Institute, Medical Reserve Corps. Also, she has served in various task forces. Beyond Dalton she has served in several state and regional boards, such as Georgia Latino Forum, Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, Georgia Health Navigators Network, Georgia Detention Watch, among many others. Ms. Gruner received the first ever Dalton City’s Cesar Chavez Award in 2005 from the Dalton Mayor at that time, because of her service to the community.
In 2006, CLILA organized the first Latino Vote campaign in the history of Dalton. Since then, this organization has an ongoing voter registration/education campaign, and frequent candidate forums. Citizenship classes started in 2006, as well as English classes as a power building tool. Various community forums and meetings are held to discuss issues affecting immigrants and Latinos in general. Through community organizing, more and more people have discovered that they can have an active role in the fight for justice and dignity as immigrants. CLILA has also built alliances with state and national organizations.
Since March 2020, they have been working consistently creating innovative options to fight COVID in NW GA, by creating educational materials, joining other organizations, as well as local authorities to find resources and solutions, i.e. getting accessible locations and convenient times for testing and vaccination for Latinos.
Living far away from big cities has never been an obstacle to being actively advocating for our needs. For example, when local police roadblocks were very frequent, and many detentions were occurring, we created a campaign called Operation Panty, as a way to advocate for our women in detention. Immigration detention conditions at that time were very inhumane, since women reported not being provided with underwear, so we raised awareness on the injustice of detention and the violations of our women’s dignity. We mobilized the community to donate panties and write messages of encouragement that we wrapped around the underwear. We visited women in detention and handed them the panties. They would cry, feeling they weren’t alone and treasuring something as trivial as a panty that we take for granted, but for them was a symbol of dignity, and for us was an opportunity to fight as a local community.
“I join the philosopher Galileo Galilei to say ‘And yet it moves’, his famous phrase about the Earth not being static, but moving around the Sun; when everybody was saying the opposite. The same as CLILA, against many odds, yet CLILA moves”