A Letter To A Young Worker And Community Organizer

This is a letter to my earlier self and dedicated to all of you: to young, talented, inspired, and motivated, worker organizers in the labor movement. Thank you for listening to my story and I hope it will illuminate your own experience. 

(The following text was read out loud to a group of young organizers in August 5th 2022.)


last edited on July 28th, 2023

Hi my name is Nica. I'm a writer, artist, and worker organizer. On Sunday mornings I teach kids how to swim at our local pool from and on Wednesday nights I dance ballet.

My story begins in Manila, in the Philippines where I grew up. After graduating high school in 2008 I moved to California for college and completed my studies at UC Berkeley. As a new graduate I had no idea what career path laid before me. Good thing I got admitted to be part of a small cohort of interns at the Labor Center after graduation. Looking back, it's because of this internship that my career choices brought me to where I am today.

As a young person growing up in the Philippines, all I had wanted was to better understand why my country was poor. While in the classroom as an undergrad, I got to know a great deal about the systems, institutions, and styles of leaderships that kept people in poverty. My internship with Labor Summer put me on a path where I could do something with what I learned.

My first union job was to be an administrative assistant for an electrician union in San Mateo. Admittedly, it was a boring job and I left it because I wanted to do "more."  In the middle of my resignation I applied for another job, a sophisticated sounding job with the one and only California Labor Federation.

Fortunately, I got the gig. I secured an income that was livable and enjoyable at the age of 26. Later I found out that through a pile of resumes they saw mine and said "Who is this?! Who is Nicollette?" That is my real full name. From 2017 to 2021 I spent my time organizing unions to think about workforce development - something unions were not excited about during the moment. Unlike my job with the electricians, my role at the Labor Fed was not boring; however, I decided to leave that job after 3.5 years because I felt like I was at a dead end. There was no career advancement for me. My relationship with my boss plummeted and I began to question if the principles of equity, worker voice, and representation existed in the organization I was in. I left that job too. At the age of 30 I was without a job during a pandemic.

Today, instead of a job I have projects. After my departure from the Labor Federation I got looped into AIWA, which stands for Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, a small nonprofit based in Oakland Chinatown. I helped them revive English literacy programs. I also had a chance to be with Building Skills Partnership, a worker-training organization that upskills and professionalized janitorial and airport service workers. But most importantly, my most favorite project of all time is sharing my creative world, I call Kwento by Nica. Now I will show you it.

-Nica to show interns the Kwento by Nica website-
Kwento is my creative project and I created it all throughout my career working for unions and how did I do it? I will show you how.

1. 617 experience - I used my boredom time.

2. People at the workplace were fascinated. They didn't know how I had enough energy to invest in my creative self. And this is the part where I tell you to listen to your inner voice even in the workplace. If doodling is a bad thing to do at work, but you are so excited to scribble, color, or write a song, I encourage you to create because the results will amount over time and soon you will have your own portfolio or website like me to showcase it.

3. Some people won't like you for being creative. I had a coworker who did not like me (the jealous types tend to unlike me in the workplace.) This particular coworker made being at work so unbearable for me that I quit. That is how I left the electrician union. Now, this is the part of the story where I tell you, being creative and showing that side of you in the workplace will not be celebrated. Coming out to say you're an artist in the professional space will come with reactions. So... to be creative is to be brave in the workplace. 

4. Now, when I was working for the labor federation, everyone supported me and my ventures outside of worker organizing. My coworkers and directors knew I was creative because I made it part of my identity, BUT even in that role I learned that not all places of work are ready for creativity. There are traditions, patterns, hierarchies, and practices that are so well established that the slightest offering of a creative solution and offering how to improve or refresh old systems will be perceived as too radical and impossible to pursue.

And this is the reason why I am reading this letter to you. It is to remind you not to forget your inner voice, your creative voice, especially at times when you feel defeated in the workplace. It will happen. And when the time comes, if you need 5,10 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hour break from work to simply doodle or do your craft while you are clocked in... I encourage you to do it. That is how you can express yourself,  mesh your artistic voice in the workplace, and make time to be creative while keeping a job. 

Was this worth sharing to you? Yes. How do you find balance to do that? Well I hope I was able to show you and now we can practice. 

Continued story:
In September 15th 2023, Nica was terminated from a progressive labor-environmental organization. Having good ideas, moving fast, and skipping the ropes of getting white-male directorship approval has real life implications. The implication is that there is a good story to tell.


  • isabel penman

    dear fellow interns,

    whether you stick around in the labor movement or not, this internship will open your mind. you will learn so much in such a short amount of time.. about yourself, the people you’re working with, the labor movement, the professional world, EVERYTHING. you will probably leave with more questions than answers but that isn’t a bad thing. use the connections you make and be curious! ask questions! talk to people!

  • Oscar

    This coworker made it so unbearable for me to work in the same office as her that I quit. And that is how I left my job with the electrician union.

    I liked this quote because I feel like we make changes in our lives for many different reasons. Sometimes we are in the wrong place but we need something or someone to push us to get out of that situation (like a bad coworker). Right now I also feel like I am in a transitional phase so that spoke to me too.

  • kirsten

    take a break to make muffins!

    some people won’t like you for being creative … it can be radical and threatening to the old systems

  • Michelle

    “…not to forget your inner voice…”– it is easy to fall into the spiral of self-doubt and feeling lost. A gentle reminder not to forget your true self is vital to maintaining a grip on your sense of self.

  • Danna

    “I was very bored, I quit”
    I read a post one time about how it’s actually an act of resistance to be able to quit when you don’t feel like something is serving you because it is a way of prioritizing your mental and physical well being and being brave enough to look for other opportunities even though there can be many challenges. I like this phrase because it is a reminder to me to be brave, not settle, and look out for myself and that quitting something that does not serve me does not represent a failure.

  • Mari Nunez

    People are not always ready for creatives in the workplace.

    This resonates with me because of the creatives I’ve shared space with. One of my former coworkers (and just angel friend of mine) is an artist in every way. She impacted the way I think about work, taking up space, and seeing work as an extension of myself. The workplace might not always be ready for creatives, but when we open our lives to them, it has the potentially to change the way we move in the world.

  • Kathy

    “not all places of work are ready for creativity. There are traditions, patterns, hierarchies, and practices that are so well established that the slightest offering of a creative solution on how to improve or refresh old systems will be perceived as too radical and impossible to pursue.”

    I have experience with unions before. These lines are so precise that have gut reaction reading them. New ideas are never a threat to workers they are only a threat to people who fear worker power and sometimes that’s unions themselves. But the labor movement needs new ideas even if the first time their heard are by people who don’t want to accept them.

  • nathan/khoa

    i’ve spent the past five years organizing in my hometown. i call the folks i met this way my second family because they saw me grow from a boy into a man, they shaped the way i think and operate today, and they’re always in my thoughts whenever i go out anywhere — a research project in copenhagen, an organizing internship in sf, a train ride around chicago, a road trip to claremont

    some people grew up with youth groups, churches, sports leagues, dance teams, but i grew up with the activists of every race religious background belief who are trying to make tracy california a better place

    but i know i want to walk away, at least for a bit.

    gotta get some rest, at least for a bit.

    gotta do some thinking, at least for a bit.

    gotta do some writing, at least for a bit.

    gotta break free from good friends AND bad habits, at least for a bit.

    gotta gain perspective – on the problems i wanna help solve, on the communities i wanna help empower, on the person i wanna become

    at least for a bit.

    tl;dr — wow thanks for unlocking all these reflections bc this letter is definitely a vibe lol

  • MT

    I only wrote down one quote – “I made creativity part of my identity.” Creativity is a choice and requires intentionality. Mostly, I haven’t made this choice. I’ve stayed away from creative pursuits. I don’t have a specific reason why. It might be the perfectionist side of me or the rule-following, need for structure I have.
    I can choose to make creativity a part of my identity. I can invest my time in creative activities and hold onto these as a part of me, not just a cute thing I tried once. I love to sing and dance. I like journaling and painting too. Maybe I am creative after all.

  • Pablo

    “It is to remind you not to forget your inner voice, your creative voice, especially at times when you feel defeated in the workplace. It will happen.”

    Organizers are so busy all the time, and I have so many creative side projects I want to do before I die. I find myself worried that organizing will suck up all my time and that by the end of the day, I’ll never have the energy for creative expression, and that as a result of that, I will one day lose touch with my creative voice. To prevent that from happening, I’ll have to purposely make time. It’s good to know blending creativity with organizing isn’t as impossible as it seems.

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