Guadalupe Hernandez-Saenz: NIEP community organizer highlight

Get to know one of the eight National Immigrant Empowerment Project, or NIEP, community organizers that are advocating alongside members of their community and empowering the immigrant community to take the lead in creating long-lasting, positive changes in their cities.

Guadalupe Hernandez-Saenz from Catholic Charities Diocese of Pueblo, Pueblo, Colo.

1. Why do you enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community?

Being an immigrant myself and having to face most of the obstacles that an immigrant goes through, I hope to help others avoid or minimize these barriers as well as feeling lost or hopeless at times and not knowing what to do or where to go. I feel fortunate that I have the opportunity to be in a position where I can offer a helping hand and provide the community with tools to integrate so they feel like they belong in our community.

2. What inspired you to enter this field of work?

I am inspired knowing that we all have a voice and can use it to advocate for others and ourselves. As well as seeing the changes and advancement we have gained as an empowered immigrant community.

Unfortunately, as immigrants, we feel that if we don’t have guidance, tools, knowledge, good standing immigration status, and know the language that there is nothing that we can do to make changes in our community. This is where I come in to empower immigrant by sharing my story, letting them know we all have something to offer, highlighting all the victories we have had as an immigrant community, and most importantly that we are not alone, and we have the right and power to improve our lives.

3. In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community? What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration?

A united community can create a bigger impact and greater change when working towards a situation that affects everyone directly and indirectly.

As an example, receiving and immigrant communities have been impacted by the pandemic. Food and vaccine drives have been set-up at libraries, agencies, churches, and other public parking spaces. These events bring everyone in the community to collaborate either by organizing the event or volunteering at events.

Also, as a community it is in our best interest to learn from each other’s culture and traditions. One way is through communication such as English classes, where a language is not just being taught, but it is also creating a bridge of trust and connection between communities. Workshops and multicultural events are a terrific way to involve both communities as well. We can all learn, share, and make new friends.

4. How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

It gives the community a sense of belonging and   an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work towards creating change. Through community organizing and participation, we can celebrate each other and advocate alongside allies and others in the community.

5. In what ways have immigrants and refugees been involved in grassroots organizing?

Many community members have the courage to share their stories, learn about their rights, inform other immigrants about what they have learned and advocate for their own rights. Others are volunteering their time to integration programs and events, such as highlighting their culture and traditions with the receiving community, and educating the community about the reasons of their migration.

6. How has the immigrant community been empowered in your community? Why is it beneficial for them to feel empowered?

Through the NIEP we have been able to offer tools and resources to community members as part of their personal growth as well as extend their knowledge about the responsibilities and rights as a community constituent.

An empowered and prepared community can make a great impact when looking for substantial changes.

7. Can you briefly explain your project and what changes you are hoping to see over the next few years? What do you hope communities across the country will learn from the National Immigrant Empowerment Project (NIEP), your project specifically?

The NIEP has allowed Catholic Charities of Pueblo to launch the Unidos Through Language Program, which brings the receiving community, Native Americans and community members that have lived in USA for a long time to support the immigrant community by teaching them English. Learning English is one main objective, and we want to create a connection for the students and teachers to be engaged in the community. Over the next few years, our goal is for students to volunteer their time and become tutors for other classes as well as be able to navigate the community systems and resources.