California State Senator Durazo to address UCLA’s labor studies class of 2023

Students who have embraced “social justice at work and in the community” will also deliver speeches at the commencement event

UCLA Labor Studies | June 13, 2023

This Saturday, UCLA labor studies, an interdepartmental program of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), that promotes rigorous hands-on research and experiential learning in community and worker settings, will confer degrees upon the largest graduating class in the program’s history at its commencement ceremony.  

A longstanding advocate of the program, California State Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) will deliver the event’s keynote address. Born the seventh child in a family of eleven children to migrant worker parents, Durazo traveled with her family, following the crops throughout California and Oregon, and experienced the exploitative conditions and hardships migrant laborers endure.

From 2018 to 2022, she has represented the 24th State Senatorial District and the 26th District since 2022, encompassing Central Los Angeles and East Los Angeles. 

“I am excited to announce that our commencement keynote speaker will be State Senator Durazo,” said Chris Zepeda-Millán, Chair of UCLA’s labor studies and professor of public policy and Chicana/o and Central American Studies. “First as a student activist, then as a labor leader, and now in the California Legislature, Durazo has been a fearless champion of worker, women and immigrant rights.”

Durazo spearheaded the recently-enacted $13 million state budget allocation to expand labor centers and labor studies at UCLA and across the University of California. 

As a young labor leader in the 1980s at UNITE HERE Local 11, LA’s renowned hospitality worker union, Durazo strategized with civil and labor rights icon, Rev. James Lawson Jr. Lawson, to orchestrate nonviolent sit-ins, hunger strikes and civil disobedience protests which led to unprecedented victories for largely immigrant service workers. Inspired by his teachings, the Senator led the request for a $15 million state budget allocation to secure a permanent home for the UCLA Labor Center named in his honor in 2021. At the dedication ceremony, Durazo unveiled the building’s signage to a standing ovation.

This past year, Durazo’s legislative victories included the passage of legislation that secured the expansion of medical coverage for undocumented immigrants, which has benefited over 2 million people, and she also championed the effort to eliminate the piece-rate pay in the garment industry following a 20-year campaign.

Prior to being elected to the State Senate, she served as the Executive Vice President of UNITE HERE International, the Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, the National Co-Chair of the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign and she was the first woman Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. 

The labor studies commencement ceremony will also feature two outstanding student speakers who have embraced “social justice at work and in the community,” — the guiding ideals of UCLA’s labor studies academic program. 

Student speaker Mary Entoma, is a first-generation migrant from Cebu City, Philippines and will receive degrees in both labor studies and political science. She grew up in San Mateo, California, where her mother worked as a unionized teacher. Entoma is one of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) LA’s Co-Presidents and a community organizer with UNITE HERE Local 11, the hospitality workers’ union in Southern California and Arizona. 

Entoma has participated in boycotts and customer organizing, interfaith organizing, anti-imperialist organizing and student worker organizing through the Student Labor Advocacy Project (SLAP) at UCLA. After graduating, she will continue her work as a community organizer with Unite Here Local 11. 

Student speaker Hector De León will receive four degrees in public affairs, labor studies, Chicana/o and Central American Studies and geography, with a minor in education studies. Hector hails from the Inland Empire and a hardworking family from Jalisco, México, who have worked in construction, garment work, and as bracero farmworkers.

During his time at UCLA, he performed with Grupo Folklórico, the Latine Film & Theatre Association, played intramural soccer, and marched the 2020 Rose Parade. He worked with the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute (LPPI), the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), the Campus Retention Committee, MEChA de UCLA, Spanglish USC and served as Chief of Staff to USAC General Representative 3 (2020-2021). 

De León is a McNair Scholar, Research Rookie (2020-21), and a UCLA Alumni Association Alumni Scholar. In April 2023, he presented his research in England, at the University of Warwick’s World Congress on Undergraduate Research. He’s also a recipient of the 2023 Dean’s Prize Award for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Upon graduating, De Leon will begin working in Sacramento as part of the Capital Fellows Program in the California Assembly.

Registration for the in-person commencement ceremony is now closed, but the ceremony will be streamed live via Facebook here

Learn more about Labor Studies Commencement 2023, here

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