Nacia Castaneda: 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.

Nacia Castaneda, SOAR Immigration Legal Services — Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Portland, Oregon

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

I am passionate about helping families reunite after they have been separated due to their immigration status. My family and I immigrated to the United States, and I know what it is to leave my friends, extended family and my hometown. My immediate family and I have been blessed to be united and support each other as we adapted and continue to adapt in this country. I want to build trust with the immigrant community and create an environment that they feel safe, welcomed, and can openly communicate.

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

I am interested in learning more about immigration law and continue to help reunite separated families.  I have always had a strong connection to work with the immigrant and refugee community and help them navigate new processes and systems as they integrate into their new life. I do this by engaging in advocacy efforts, sharing resources, and providing critical services.

I have always thought about creating an opportunity for the community to come together, an event where people can share their cultures, traditions, while celebrating and learning of others. It is common to move to a new place and forget your culture.

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

Integration creates unity and understanding in our community by working together and respecting each individual’s values and needs. We promote integration by making services and resources easily accessible in English and Spanish. There is still work to be done to be more inclusive of other communities and we are working on addressing that. We host listening sessions with the community to identify their needs and work alongside them to find solutions.

4. How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

We provide leadership development and trainings to DACA recipients and try to work with other advocates on supporting these efforts. Many DACA recipients have expressed interest in gaining these skills and we are working to being supportive and equipping them with the necessary tools and trainings. Elected leaders currently in office are not very representative of the community, and that is something we are hoping to change in the future. We want to support the growth of DACA recipients through knowledge and opportunities of engagement.

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

We participate in an annual advocacy day and have the opportunity to prep DACA recipients to engage with state and local legislators. We also host listening sessions with the community and offer frequent updates to the changing immigration policies. We have also created a safe space for DACA recipients to discuss their challenges, offer support, discuss solutions and assist in guiding through various advocacy efforts.

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

We have been promoting leadership development to DACA recipients. Dreamers contribute to our community and are productive members of society. We hope to empower them through the NIEP by creating positive change around issues affecting them and the community. We will do this through various trainings and opportunities to practice new learned skills.

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?

We are working to build trust among DACA recipients and the community while promoting leadership development.  We want to educate communities across the country that DACA recipients can be part of this country and have a sense of belonging in their community and in this country. For many of them, the U.S. is their home. If the community can come together, we can achieve more and come up with solutions that are successful and also permanent.